St Mary's Church, Beverley

making disciples

Religious reform

The West Front of St Mary’s Beverley
Picture credit: foxyfoto.co.uk

In the early 16th century, religious changes swept across Europe.

The doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church were openly challenged as reformers offered alternate evangelical theologies based on the Bible rather than the traditional practices of Catholicism.

Although King Henry VIII was the first monarch to officially separate his country’s church from Rome, Henry himself neither fully nor consistently committed to enacting evangelical reforms.

This all changed following the accession of his young son, Edward VI (1547-1553). Edward was educated by evangelical tutors, and appears to have been personally devoted to the cause.

Because he was only 9 at his accession, Edward’s governance was assisted by the Lord Protector (his uncle, Edward Seymour) and Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, both of whom were ardent reformers.

Within the first year of the reign, all religious imagery and decoration in churches was destroyed, evangelical theology was introduced, and the last chantries (a final bastion of the old faith) were dissolved.

A few years later, a new English Book of Common Prayer was issued, dramatically transforming how people worshipped.

In Beverley, following the failure of the Pilgrimage of Grace, the townspeople appear to have generally accepted the religious reforms issued from London.

Nevertheless, the changes in this period transformed Beverley beyond recognition.

The suppression of religious houses extended to hospitals (which were run by monks and nuns), and led to the closure of six buildings in Beverley. The friaries in the town were likewise dissolved.

In 1548, the Church of St John the Evangelist (the Minster) lost its collegiate status.

The Minster was only saved from demolition when members of the town bought the building for £100. It has been a parish church ever since.

Roof bosses on the ceilings of the nave of St Mary’s


Stepping into St Mary’s, parishioners would have experienced a very different form of worship: the service was now in English (not Latin) and it had been revised to follow the most recent reforming theologies.

The church would also have looked different. Figures of saints had been removed from niches, and any wall painting was whitewashed. The colourful roof bosses likely only survived this purge because, set high in the ceiling, they were not easily accessible.

The portraits which illuminate this chapter of Tudor history:

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