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368: Beverley Minster, East Yorkshire, England
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Beverley Minster, East Yorkshire, England.
Mystery Worshipper: She who must be obeyed, and Mrs Alighieri.
The church: The Minster Church of St John the Evangelist, Beverley, East Yorkshire, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: Gothic. There are illustrations on each of the pillars of medieval musicians, wonderful tracery in wood and stone, soaring ceilings and great acoustics.
The church: A minster church in the market town of Beverley. Excellent team of bellringers (though not in evidence this time), and a very active parish life. It was founded by St John of Beverley, Bishop of Hexham, who was the bishop responsible for ordaining the Venerable Bede. St John of Beverley is commemorated each year in a service for the deaf in the nearby birthplace of Harpham.
The neighbourhood: Beverley is an unspoilt medieval market town. There are two gorgeous churches – the parish church of St Mary on North Bar Within, and the minster, at the other end of the medieval town. Nearby is the old friary (now the YHA), and the choir school of the minster. At one time this was the 10th town in the kingdom, made wealthy by merchants. Now it is the wealthy county town of the East Riding of Yorkshire.
What was the name of the service?
Choral Evensong.

How full was the building?
Full complement in the quire stalls. Lots of local people – who evidently came regularly, given their sense of involvement in the service.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Not really. It was being opened up when we stumbled in out of the rain. The verger was quite helpful, but was having to open everything up.

Was your pew comfortable?
Old quire stalls are straight, but comfortable. And wide enough for the broadest backsides.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Pre-service, the choir was practising. It was heavenly.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
There were no words, because the service began with the song, "God be in my head..." After that, the first words spoken were the responses.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns Old and New (New Anglican edition) and the Book of Common Prayer.

What musical instruments were played?
Just one magnificent organ, which Mrs Alighieri rated the third best in England.

Did anything distract you?
I found one choirboy not singing a bit odd, and one of the ministers was bored to death, and showed it. Also, there was the most hellish clash on one of the choristers' hoods – scarlet, light green and dark green.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was quite reverential and awe-inspiring. A typical cathedral/minster service, really.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
There was no sermon.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
When the choir sang "Nunc Dimittis", heaven smiled down on the singing.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I didn't think anything was like being in "the other place", but Mrs Alighieri thought that it was wandering into the choir practice, with everyone staring.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We were greeted by the minister and the reader. And even though they had said they were locking the church after evensong, there was no sense of them wanting to close up.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was no after-service anything.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7. This is an active parish, as well as being the most gorgeous minster church – bigger than a lot of cathedrals, and it has some of the same atmosphere. I'm not in Beverley often, but I would be tempted to come here on a regular, if infrequent, basis.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Given that it overcame my usual reservations about evensong, I have to say yes.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The cross-bearer in the procession, who looked just like Jesus. Also, for Mrs Alighieri, "Love bless you and keep you" by Rutter. His son died recently, near where she lives, and for her it made it all the more poignant.
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