A view backstage at Beverley Minster

It’s a funny old world (I hope)

Writing from Hell, well, Leeds Bradford Departure Lounge, Neil Pickford considers matters international.
We’re getting ready for a hanging in the Minster. Next Monday (if you’re reading this prior to the event – a long time ago if you’re watching a repeat) we will be putting two paintings back into the positions from which they had been missing for the last few months.
To be precise, they will return to elevated sites on the south wall of our south transept. These are prime positions – and yet I wonder how many people will notice.
They should – the pictures themselves will be transformed (I am assured). Once they were dark, with some sorts of design peeping through the gloom. Now they should be vibrant, alive and redolent with ancient messages.
Thanks to those very kind Friends of Beverley Minster these dirty wooden boards, for that is what they were, have been properly cleaned. Now, being a virger, I would have assumed that a simple scrubbing brush and bucket of soapy water would have done the trick but, despite the strength of the underlying material, apparently not.
Before they went away for treatment it was still just about possible to make out most of the original intentions of the artists. The picture to the left represents King Athelstan giving his Charter of Freedom to St John of Beverley. This charter was given 200 years after the death of St John but he stands here representing his church. The picture is dated c. 1450 and bears the words: Als fre make I The as hert may thynke or Egh may see.
We believe it refers to the fact that Athelstan removed the obligation to pay taxes from the good citizens of Beverley – what a pity that freedom was subsequently curtailed by a rapacious state.
The Royal Arms in the picture on the right hand side are those of King Charles II, dated 1663 on the frame.
Despite the fact that the patina of age has been accumulating, inch by inch, for over 550 years on one, a mere 350 on the other, you apparently have to coax off each molecule of muck with a piece of tissue paper and a kindly word, or something like that. Well, that’s what the conservators say, trying to justify a task that has taken months, which John and I could have had finished in a couple of minutes with a long-handled brush.
I admit, we might have lost a couple of flakes of paint here and there in the process so, I guess, it’s better to let the professionals have a go. After all, it wouldn’t be good if we’d ended up with two blank boards where once there were hidden meanings.
I wonder if we ought to varnish them once the conservators have gone, to protect the shine. What would be the harm in that?
Anyway, it’s going to be a brief blog this week because I am currently en route to Amsterdam, where I intend to have a very informative few days doing very important research work on how foreigners do things in their churches.
I am particularly interested in the way that some states will collect taxes on behalf of the church, unlike in our own dear country where exactly nothing, zero, zilch is taken from citizens at local or national level to underwrite our costs.
One of the spin offs from this investigation may very well be how much pay foreign virgers get.
This is, absolutely, in no way a family holiday.
Perhaps I could deduct the costs against tax. 

First published February 2010


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