The Percy Chapel – a whiter shade of pale
Neil Pickford exposes a formerly hidden part of Beverley Minster.
This week I must start with yet another apology. Long-suffering readers may remember that, when I was recently describing a virgers’ duties, I said a lot of these tasks were undertaken so that a minister or priest could just arrive for a service and ‘do their thang’. The Rev. Jeremy Fletcher of Beverley Minster has stated that, in his case, a more appropriate phrase was ‘get ready to rock’.
I am happy to make this correction.
And yet another apology. I must, once again, leave both you and Car Park Johnny disappointed – CPJ in particular unhappily flexing his mighty muscles in the background – while I tell you a different tale.
In the previous column I touched on an area which we virgers would like to see more easily accessible to visitors – our graveyard. In this epistle I shall deal with an area that the virgers HAVE made more accessible.
That’s clever writing technique, isn’t it? You see, I don’t just throw these things together – in fact I was using a technique which TV science fiction writers call an ‘arc’ where a series of individual episodes also contain links to, or parts of, a larger story.
I was, at this point, about to come in with a joke about Noah’s Ark or the Ark of the Covenant, but I couldn’t think of one. However, enough of that because I’d like to start telling you about the Percy Chapel in the north east corner of Beverley Minster.
For many years it was a dark, dusty hidden-away part of the church, more like a fenced off animal cage that was restraining a dangerous-looking stone sculpture. If you’d dared to peek over the wooden barrier you might also have seen a family of not-very-rare lesser-spotted cardboard boxes.
Well, not any more. We virgers managed to find the keys and flung open the door to reveal a newly-scrubbed wonderland – with a rather interesting history, as it happens. (Which is lucky for you readers as there’s nothing worse than an uninteresting history, is there?)
Anyway, this chapel was the last resting place for the 4th Earl of Northumberland – Henry Percy, the ‘King of the North’.
Now, most people who’ve heard of the Percys say: “Piffle – the family was based much further north.”
We virgers just smile politely and point out that, until the death of the 4th Earl, the family was actually based at Leconfield and would have been patrons of the Minster.
The earl was supposedly killed by a mob while collecting taxes on behalf of Henry VIIth but many people suspect that, even in those days, spin doctors were already practising their dishonourable trade on behalf of their paymasters. Many eminent historians – and I – believe that Henry VIIth had him killed, thus removing a possible rival for the throne of England.
Circumstantial evidence in support of this theory comes in the funeral costs which Henry forced the Percys to meet, including those for erecting the chapel back in 1489. Henry demanded that the family should spend a huge proportion of their wealth on this memorial but, to spite him, a few corners and costs were cut.
The two new walls were just stuck onto the outside of the Minster and the foundations were of a cheap and cheerful variety as well – so it was hardly surprising when, a mere 500 years later, they started to fall over.
Luckily, within the last two years, the walls appear to have been successfully stabilised, windows reshaped to fit the new distorted holes in the wall and the surfaces cleaned. It now gleams and, in certain respects, is quite welcoming. So come on in and browse the historic arc-itecture. (hahahahah – sorry – told you I couldn’t find a decent joke),
There are a lot more good stories around the burial itself but, I’m afraid, they will have to wait to another week, along with the tale of Car Park Johnny. Heavens, aren’t I building up a veritable arc-ive (sorry) of subjects to cover?
‘Til next week.
First published July 2010