Beverley Minster

The Art of Sitting Down.

Being a chorister has the advantage that in cold churches one is able to wear thick clothing under the robes designed to retain heat. There are times during protracted services when one longs to sit down though. A misericord is just what is needed. That is not an example of poor harmony by the choir! It is a small ledge on the underside of a folding seat which supports a person in a standing position: a kind of sitting down whilst standing up.



Beverley Minster has 68 such 'mercy seats' as they are known. They are works of art in their own right depicting a wide variety of scenes. One of the most prominent is the familiar figure of a fox, holding a rosary (indicating he is a Dominican friar) preaching to a bunch of silly geese (the congregation). Another scene shows the geese hanging the fox.

The Minster is regarded as one of the most beautiful Gothic buildings in Europe and it contains some fine artwork. In the nave the curved tracery and elaborate carvings on the label-stops and columns are outstanding. The Percy Tomb canopy is a unique example of intricate carving. Also famous are the minstrel carvings. There are over 70 of them, in wood and stone, from the medieval period depicting about 20 different instruments. This is believed to be the largest collection in the world and reflects the importance of Beverley as a centre of music in the North of England.


There seems to have been a Guild of Musicians at Beverley as early as 1380. It is the second recorded place of Waits - a name for a Guild of Town Pipers - the first being in Westminster. To me, it is remarkable that this history is so alive. Beverley has an Early Music Festival every year. This year it is between 24th and 27th May. There is a Chamber Music Festival, a Folk Festival, and a newly formed New Paths Music Festival. Nearby York, in close association with Beverley, is the seat of the National Centre for Early Music.


There is another distinctive example of a seat in the Minster: a Frith Stool. Dating back to Anglo Saxon times it is a seat of protected sanctuary. It was used by refugees seeking safety.

Perhaps the fox should have developed The Art of Sitting Down upon it?


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