A view backstage at Beverley Minster

All the world’s a stage

As the dust settles and the crowds depart Minster virger Neil Pickford shares a few thoughts.
Last week a few rather indignant individuals came up and, eyes bulging, stared me straight in the face.
“It’s a disgrace,” they opined loudly, waving arms around. “This shouldn’t be allowed in a church.”
I glanced around. By ‘this’ I assumed the visitors were referring to the huge quantities of thick black cabling and several dozen large blue boxes which were lying neatly around the side walls of the Minster.
Or perhaps they were referring to the team of casually dressed workers who were, with very little chatter, efficiently pushing huge trolleys around to hoist countless spotlights up to high level scaffolding that had appeared the day before.
It is even possible that they meant the wipe-down table in front of the pulpit where a collection of coffee, squash and biscuits waited to be consumed by various members of this alien team.
I sought clarification.
It turned out that they were objecting to the more fundamental principle of a popular television programme being recorded in a church.
Apparently they felt that it shouldn’t be allowed, it was irreligious and probably blasphemous as well – in addition to being a noisy intrusion on the peace and quiet that they were expecting to find.
Well, I’m sorry, but they were wrong.
Now I don’t claim that that’s a definitive statement on behalf of all the parishes in the Church of England because we’re not that sort of organisation. In certain respects the CoE is a federation and each individual parochial church council makes their own judgement on things such as opening hours and what they are prepared to allow in their churches and parish halls.
In the case of Beverley Minster we, long ago, made the decision to act as a venue and tourist attraction as well as a parish church. Sometimes it seems as if we’re too successful at this.
Every now and then one of our visitors looks around with jaw dropping amazement and asks something like: “What’s it used for?” or: “Are you open on Sundays?” 
And then we have to point out, once again, that we are a fully working church first and foremost, providing spiritual, moral and practical support to the people of whatever religion who live in our parish boundaries if they want it; secondly, providing this same service to the wider world.
However, we fulfil all these functions in a building that was designed, some 800 years ago, to be one of the greatest theatres in the world.
That’s right – the whole magnificent structure of Beverley Minster was intended to act as a public viewing area for the reliquary of St John. This incredibly richly-decorated box was located on a stage high above the altar and all the lines of the building lead your eye towards the spot where, it was believed, the barriers between Heaven and Earth were at their weakest. Once a year on St John’s special day the reliquary would go on tour – around Beverley – to general rejoicing, music, dancing and drunkenness.
The Minster wasn’t designed to be a shrine to silence and sermons but a place of exuberance and excitement – showbiz in other words.
Songs of Praise and Antiques Roadshow are merely the latest in a long line of honourable entertainments and we are delighted to have hosted them.
Mind you, it was a lot of work and I’m dog-tired now. No energy left to tell you why I’m a virger spelt with an ‘i’ now so we’ll have to try again next week.
‘Til then.
“Ere,” said one particular lad last week as I passed him in the street. “Aren’t you that guy…..?”
Well, he might have been talking about one of my recent appearances on Look North, a photo that made it into the Hull Daily Mail, my column in the Advertiser or this blog.
I preened myself, ready to smile modestly and mutter a quick aside along the lines of: “glad you enjoy my writing – just a little something that I hope entertains you” or equivalent throwaway line to show what a humble yet truly wonderful person I am.
“Aren’t you that guy who made a prat of himself at the tip?” he continued.
I remembered the event from several months ago. In my socially responsible, environmentally friendly, save-the-planet way I’d been taken some old furniture from the Minster, along with garden refuse of my own, along to t’ tip.
To cut a long story short: pulled out heavy furniture, furniture leg stuck on doors, twisted furniture, furniture leg pulled out rubbish bag, went to save rubbish bag, slipped, bum landed in cold, wet, muddy puddle, uttered discouraging words, people laughed.
I decided not to offer my autograph.
“No, must have been someone else,” I said.
First published May 2010 

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