Saint John of Beverley, Bishop

May 7

Today is the feast day of Saint John of Beverley. Ora pro nobis.

John was born of noble parents at Harpham, Humberside. (1) In early life he was under the care of Archbishop Theodore, at Canterbury, who supervised his education, and is reputed to have given him the name of John. (3)  

He studied under St Adrian at Canterbury (died 710 – see 9th January) and then became a monk at St Hilda’s double monastery at Whitby. About 687 he was made bishop of Hexham. He was a mentor to Bede the Venerable and ordained him deacon (692) and priest (703). (1)

Most of our evidence for John’s life is provided by Bede. Bede describes a number of his miracles of healing, but his posthumous reputation was nonetheless far out of proportion to the rather scanty evidence for his life, and by the later Middle Ages his shrine attracted pilgrims from all over England. Two colourful miracle stories illustrate the vitality of his legend, centuries after his death. First, a miracle recorded by William of Malmesbury in the first half of the twelfth century:

John, a man of exemplary virtue, finds a well-known eulogist, Bede, in his History of the English. But he lives up to his praises even now, and his miracles are not yet over. The most noteworthy is the one made into a show by the inhabitants of Beverley, where he lies buried. Savage bulls are brought up, tied fast, by strong men sweating profusely; but as soon as they enter the churchyard they lose all their ferocity and become, you might suppose, no more than innocent sheep. So they are untied and left to frolic in the yard, though previously they used to go for anything in their way with horns and hooves. (2)

In 705 John was translated to York and Wilfrid succeeded him at Hexham as a settlement of his dispute with the Northumbrian kings. As bishop of York he founded the monastery at Beverley and retired there in 717, four years before his death.

The cure of a dumb boy is just one of many miracles recorded by Bede about John. Others to write about or honour him were: Alcuin (735-804), King Athelstan (895-939), Julian of Norwich (1342-1416), King Henry V (1387-1422) and St John Fisher (1469-1535). John’s cult became very popular in the north of England and his shrine at Beverley was a place of sanctuary throughout the Middle Ages. (1)

He was canonised, in 1037, by Pope Benedict IX and, in the same year, his relies were translated by Archbishop Alfric and deposited in a shrine of gold. At the Reformation, they were interred in a case of lead which has been twice exposed to the light – in 1664 and in 1736. (4)

Image: Crop of Stained glass window in Beverley Minster, Beverley, East Riding of Yorkshire, England (5)

Research by REGINA Staff


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