A view backstage at Beverley Minster

A Cathedral? No!

Beverley Minster virger Neil Pickford speaks out, again and again.
I was canvassed the other day, in my role as someone-connected-with-the-Minster-who’s-easy-to-get-hold-of-if-the-vicar’s-not-available, and asked for my thoughts on Beverley as a cathedral city.
This topic had come about as a result of the looming Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II when it is proposed to elevate some towns to city status. Did I think Beverley should be one?
I could see why the question was raised – largely due to a common misunderstanding. Wearing geek glasses for a moment I must point out that cities don’t necessarily have to have a cathedral to qualify Secondly, despite its size Beverley Minster is not a cathedral, and never has been.
Continuing in geek mode, and to answer my most frequently asked question, a cathedral is a building where a Diocesan (not Suffragan) bishop has his (always a ‘he’ so far, but who knows in future) cathedra or seat. To paraphrase the well-known Paul Young song: “Wherever I lay my chair, that’s my cathedral.”
A Minster was (before Henry VIIIth messed around with things) a college of priests that had the altars for several parishes collected under one roof – which saved travelling.
Some Minsters became cathedrals, (York, Lincoln and Ripon for instance) – we were one that didn’t.
Back in Victorian times the Church reorganised its boundaries because of the huge growth in cities and it was seriously proposed that our Minster should become a cathedral because it wouldn’t cost anything to change it – we already had everything one needed (except a diocesan bishop).
Economy, however, was ignored and we continue to be just a huge and beautiful parish church rather than anything more grand.
The way that the Church of England is being reorganised these days the idea of Minsters is coming back and we might yet revert to our original status – but not to a cathedral, thank you very much.
As far as this virger is concerned bishops just make extra work, and I’ve got enough of that coming up with Songs of Praise and the Antiques Roadshow, thanks very much.
And speaking of those two BBC productions, the deadlines are really getting close and we virgers are finally realising what a lot of work we’ve got in front of us. It’s all very well talking in meetings (without any biscuits for sustenance) that “WE’LL” move the chairs for Songs of Praise and then “WE’LL” move them out of the way for the Roadshow but then the harsh reality dawns. I am one half of the ‘WE’ and John, the other half, has got major problems with his legs at the moment.
On top of that we only work together on Mondays and alternate Saturdays – and there are many other things we have to do on those days as well.
I fitted in a brief interview for Radio Humberside last week in between other duties and concluded by saying something like: “Yes, it’s business as usual, with a little bit extra on top.”
I must have been mad, or delusional – or the planners have been having ‘a bit of a larf’ with us. Look at it – not only do we have to rearrange the chairs in the nave to accommodate 500 plus on the Monday and Tuesday, before stripping the whole area clear before Friday; we then have to get it all back again for Saturday.
BUT, a little thing, BUT, it’s only the County Choir concert this Saturday, isn’t it? That’s right, only the blinking county choir performance, for which we have to turn all the blinking chairs through 180 degrees for one night only, returning them to their normal blinking positions for Sunday services before going home to bed.
THEN we blinking well have to get them in place for the BBC.
We’ve tried to work ahead as much as possible – there are around 300 heavy lumps of leather and stuffing called ‘hassocks’ or ‘kneelers’ attached to the nave chairs for the tiny minority of our congregation who like to use them. Over two Mondays John and I have taken several hours to transport them out of the way and leave the chairs unencumbered for subsequent shifting. There are now two tall red leather piles around the Percy Chapel, shifting furtively and waiting to explode on us when we try to return them. We’ll see how many people really miss them this Sunday.
Of course, we couldn’t start turning the chairs while both virgers were together could we? No, because we were hosting the Candidates’ Hustings that night and the next two days were my weekend in lieu.
I’ve told John not to do them all himself, because I want something to moan about as well, but knowing him there won’t be many pews unturned when I return to work on Thursday.
However, there’s plenty of other stuff to look after for other people so I don’t think I’ll miss out on much. My biceps will be like balloons in a week or so.
I only hope Fiona likes muscular men.
First published May2010

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