Songs in the Ceiling, Angels in the Architecture:

Celebrating St Mary’s Musical Connections from a Distance

St Mary’s ‘Minstrels Pillar’

St Mary’s has maintained important relationships with musicians for many centuries.

When the church tower fell in 1520, the Northern Guild of Minstrels generously sponsored the repair of one of the pillars on the north side of the nave. To commemorate the gift, this pillar hosts five figures of Minstrels. Above the figures, writing on a small label stop marks the donation: ‘Thys Pyllor Made the Maynstryls’ (‘This pillar [was] made [by] the Minstrels’).

The Minstrels Pillar is one of many carvings in St Mary’s that attests to the building’s strong ties to music and musicians. In the choir vestry there is a series of brightly coloured carved musicians leaning out from the wall, and among the hundreds of Tudor roof bosses in the nave, there is a man blowing two horns, and a pig playing the bagpipes.

More musicians have been uncovered in the course of our current restoration works – in the north nave clerestories, our team of stonemasons have found carvings of musicians playing different instruments, including harps, lutes, and pipes.

St Mary’s historic ties to musical life in Beverley is thus celebrated in the very fabric of the building. And so past precedent continues in modern practice: St Mary’s is proud to be a venue for some of the region’s most outstanding musical performances, including concerts in New Paths’ Spring and Beverley Chamber Music Festivals, and the Beverley Early Music Festival.

For the last few months, St Mary’s Curious Carvings project has been collaborating with musicians involved in the Beverley Early Music Festival to find further ways to highlight and celebrate the building’s heritage.

In October 2019, the musicians Vivien Ellis and Giles Lewin of Alva, and harpist Leah Stuttard, started to plan a programme of music inspired by the subjects and themes within St Mary’s heritage, and in particular its roof bosses, misericords, and sculptures.

Vivien described the process behind this work:

“My understanding of my job here – as a musician and researcher preparing a concert at St Mary’s – is to bring the bosses and misericords to life – using songs, music and performance – to give the audience an insight into the world which produced this amazing heritage, to realise that we are not very different now to the people who produced this culture then, in a concert which will entertain, enthral, inform and surprise.”

The concert, which is titled ‘Angels in the Architecture’, was due to be performed at St Mary’s on Saturday 30th May 2020, as part of this year’s Beverley Early Music Festival. Unfortunately, as a result of the current global crisis, the festival has been postponed until 2021.

However, Vivien, Giles, and Leah have found a way to bring parts of this concert to us digitally. In a series of blog posts and recordings, performances of the songs from the concert will be shared online, along with descriptions of the music and the inspirations behind it. Access to these items can be found through Vivien and Leah’s websites.

This generous sharing allows us to enjoy the work of these world-class musicians even from a distance, and brings an opportunity to explore St Mary’s heritage in a new and exciting way, even while the church is closed.

Everyone involved with St Mary’s Curious Carvings project is delighted that the church’s heritage has been a source of creative inspiration for Vivien, Leah, and Giles. We look forward to welcoming them back into St Mary’s for the 2021 Beverley Early Music Festival, and to learning more about the songs that can be found in the ceiling, and the angels in the architecture.