A view backstage at Beverley Minster

Everybody needs good neighbours

Neil Pickford tries to be friendly

Tribalism is a good/bad thing: discuss.

It’s a moot point actually, because tribalism gives a sense of belonging and identity to a group of people or a community – a feeling of being part of a protective family – but it also breeds dislike for outsiders.

In a simple way you can see it in the rivalries between counties: Yorkshire versus Lancashire; Gloucestershire versus Somerset.  At that level it’s fairly harmless; perhaps a heightened feeling of disappointment if a derby sporting clash goes against ‘our’ team.

It can lead to some fairly pointed jokes: for example, as a Gloucestershireman I am very proud of the Severn Bridge, despite the fact that it makes it easy for people from Cardiff to get to Bristol. Welsh patriots boast that the toll booths are on the Welsh side so it proves Wales is more valuable: “You don’t have to pay to get into England,” they say proudly.

“You don’t pay to leave a zoo,” I retort, equally tribally, and various spirited exchanges normally follow.

Matters become a little more fraught the closer these rivalries come to your doorstep: it’s one thing to think vaguely provocative thoughts about anonymous people living the other side of a river or range of hills, but when the rivals are real people living next door the chance for serious disagreements grows.

We had our own share of that in Beverley in the 16th century. In fact one of the most popular (and apparently light-hearted) carvings in the Minster is actually a bitter attack on our neighbours.

A beautifully executed 3D cartoon on one of our misericords (tip-up seats) in the quire shows a fox in a pulpit preaching to a lot of geese. Behind him is a monkey and behind that is another fox running away with a goose in its mouth. It’s fairly easy to see the message – the fox is trying to con its simple-minded audience or congregation so that it can steal away with them, but the real clue to the message is in the cowl that the fox is wearing.

This cowl is the identifying mark of the monks, who lived in the Friary just across the road from us in Eastgate – and the mediaeval Minster hated them.

Many people think that, because the Friary was a Christian institution right next door to our own then we must have been related, but not so. While both were supposedly worshipping the same God we had opposing views about the best way to get to heaven.  The monks believed in poverty and getting closer to God by dedicating every moment of their waking lives to living a ‘Good Life’.

However the 16th century Minster staff of nearly 100 priests and clerics believed that the only way to heaven was through prayer (in Latin) asking a kind God to forgive the fact that every human errs. Pay some money to the priests and they’d do the religion and pleading for you, freeing you to go on doing whatever it was you needed those prayers for in the first place (I’m simplifying enormously here).

Now I’m not going to enter into the theological correctness of either stance here: millions of people have died over the centuries as a result of savage debates on the matter but we virgers just tidy up afterwards.

Luckily we didn’t have to clean up a bloody mess after this particular disagreement because, thanks to Henry VIII’s religious reformers, and to the joy of the Minster staff, the Franciscans were expelled from Britain by 1538. However, our victory was short-lived as the old form of Minster was itself abolished in 1548 and almost all clerical staff thrown out. But the misericord survives, a reminder of ancient hatreds and battles long-lost.

You’ll be glad to know we actually get on rather well with the various Franciscans and Dominicans these days, and even the Catholics – which is nice.


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