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St. John of Beverley
(Died AD 721)

Bishop of Hexham
Bishop of York
Abbot of Beverley
Died: 7th May AD 721 at Beverley, Yorkshire East Riding


John, better known as St. John of Beverley, studied at Canterbury under St. Adrian and was later one of St. Hilda's pupils at Whitby. "A circumstance," says Fuller, " which soundeth something to her honour and nothing to his disgrace, seeing eloquent Apollo himself learned the primar of his Christianity partly from Priscilla."

St. John, whose foundation at Beverley became one of the three centres of Christianity in Deira (the others were York and Ripon), was born of noble parents at Harpham in the East Riding. At an early age, he began to preach to the still half-heathen people, arresting their attention by his powerful eloquence. The Venerable Bede was one of St. John's pupils and was ordained by him. In August AD 687, John, who had for some time been living in a hermitage at Harneshow, on the left bank of the Tyne opposite Hexham, was consecrated Bishop of Hexham, the see which had been established in AD 681. Here, he remained for eighteen years, during which we know little of his labours or his life. He was translated to York in AD 705, where he became a favourite with King Osred and was present at a synod in which many enactments were made for the better regulation of the Northumbrian Church. He was most diligent in watching over his monasteries and in attending to the poor and to the company of pupils always gathered about him. Whilst holding the see of York, John became the owner of Inderawood, a village on the site of the present town of Beverley, in his native district. There was already, at Inderawood, a small church dedicated to St. John the Evangelist. This, the bishop enlarged and established as a monastery for both sexes (as was then the custom). Numerous gifts were made to the new foundation and many churches were built in the surrounding district, then thickly covered with forest. St. John resigned the See of York, in AD 714, and retired to his monastery at Beverley, where he died in AD 721. He was canonised, in 1037, by Pope Benedict IX and, in the same year, his relies were translated by Archbishop Alfric and deposited in a shrine of gold. At the Reformation, they were interred in a case of lead which has been twice exposed to the light - in 1664 and in 1736.

The reputation of St. John of Beverley was greater than that of any northern saint, apart from St. Cuthbert. Athelstan, on his way into Scotland in AD 934, visited the shrine and carried off the holy banner of the saint as a protection to his host, promising that, if he returned victorious, he would bestow many privileges on the church. He did so accordingly, giving to it its famous right of sanctuary, and founding a college of secular canons. The traditional words in which the grant of sanctuary is recorded
"Als fre make I the
As hert may thenk
Or eghe may see"

are certainly very ancient and are mentioned in a confirmation of the privileges of the church made by King Henry IV.

The Conqueror and Stephen were prevented, by miraculous interference, as it was alleged, from ravaging the territory of St. John. The banner of Beverley was one of those which floated over the host of the English at the Battle of the Standard (1138). Archbishop Edward, like Athelstan, carried it with him into Scotland. Henry V and his Queen visited the shrine of St. John after the victory of Agincourt on the festival of his translation; and although St. Crispin and Crispinian shared the honours of the day, the King attributed the victory greatly to the intercession of St. John of Beverley.

Edited from Richard John King's "Handbook to the Cathedrals of England: Northern Division" (1903).

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