Hereford Cathedral is dedicated to two patron saints, Saint Mary the Virgin and Saint Ethelbert the King. The latter was beheaded by Offa, King of Mercia in the year 792. Offa had consented to give his daughter to Ethelbert in marriage: why he changed his mind and deprived him of his head historians do not know, although tradition is at no loss to supply him with an adequate motive. Ethelbert's body was brought to the site of the modern cathedral by 'a pious monk'. At Ethelbert's tomb miracles were said to have occurred, and in the next century (about 830) Milfrid, a Mercian nobleman, was so moved by the tales of these marvels as to rebuild in stone the little church which stood there, and to dedicate it to the sainted king. Before this, Hereford had become the seat of a bishopric. It is said to have been the centre of a diocese as early as the 6th century. In the 7th century the cathedral was refounded by Putta, who settled here when driven from Rochester by Æthelred of Mercia. The cathedral of stone, which Milfrid raised, stood for some 200 years, and then, in the reign of Edward the Confessor, it was altered. The new church had only a short life, for it was plundered and burnt in 1056 by a combined force of Welsh and Irish under Gruffydd ap Llywelyn, the Welsh prince; it was not, however, destroyed until its custodians had offered vigorous resistance, in which seven of the canons were killed.
Hereford Cathedral remained in a state of ruin until Robert of Lorraine was consecrated to the see (made Bishop) in 1079 and undertook its reconstruction. His work was carried on by Bishop Reynelm, who was next but one in the succession. Reynelm died in 1115, and it was only under his third successor, Robert de Betun, who was Bishop from 1131 to 1148, that the church was brought to completion. One of the most notable of the pre-reformation Bishops of Hereford was Peter of Aigueblanche, also known as Bishop Aquablanca, who rebuilt the north transept. Aquablanca came to England in the train of Eleanor of Provence. He was undoubtedly a man of energy and resource; though he lavished money upon the cathedral and made a handsome bequest to the poor, it cannot be pretended that his qualifications for the office to which Henry III appointed him included piety. He was an unblushing nepotist, nor was he afraid to practise gross fraud when occasion called for it. When Prince Edward came to Hereford to deal with Llywelyn the Great of Gwynedd, the Bishop was away in Ireland on a tithe-collecting expedition, and the dean and canons were also absent. Not long after the Bishop's return, which was probably expedited by the stern rebuke which the King administered, he and all his relatives from Savoy were seized within the cathedral by a party of barons, who deprived him of the money which he had extorted from the Irish.
Thomas de Cantilupe was the next but one bishop of Hereford after Aquablanca. He had faults not uncommon in men who held high ecclesiastical office in his day, however he was a strenuous administrator of his see, and an unbending champion of its rights. For assaulting some of the episcopal tenants and raiding their cattle, Lord Clifford was condemned to walk barefoot through the cathedral to the high altar, and the bishop himself applied the rod to his back. Bishop Cantilupe also wrung from the Welsh King Llewellyn some manors which he had seized, and Cantilupe, after a successful lawsuit against the Earl of Gloucester to determine the possession of a chase near the Forest of Malvern, dug the dyke which can still be traced on the crest of the Malvern Hills. Excommunicated by Archbishop of Canterbury John Peckham, he went to the papal court in Orvieto to plead his case with the pope. He moved with the court to Montefiascone where, already ill, he died in 1282 before his case was fully resolved. His flesh was buried in the monastery of San Severo outside Orvieto and his heart and bones were brought back to England. His bones were placed in a shrine at Hereford Cathedral where they became a focus of a huge pilgrimage cult. Rome was urged to canonise him, and among the evidences of his saintliness which his admirers appealed to, in addition to the miracles of healing wrought at his shrine, were the facts that he never ceased to wear his hair-shirt, and would never allow even his sister to kiss him. The testimony was regarded as conclusive and in 1320 the bishop's name was added to the roll of saints.
In the war between King and Parliament (the English Civil War) the city of Hereford fell into the hands first of one party, then of the other. Once it endured a siege, and when it was taken the conquerors ran riot in the cathedral and, in their fury, caused great damage which could never be repaired. In the early years of the 18th century, Bishop Bisse (1712–21), devised a scheme to support the central tower. He also had installed an enormous altar-piece and an oak screen, and instead of restoring the Chapter House he allowed its stones to be utilised for alterations to the Bishop's Palace. It was during this period that his brother, the Rev Dr Thomas Bisse, was the Chancellor of the Cathedral. In 1724 Thomas Bisse organised a "Music Meeting" which subsequently became, with the Cathedrals at Worcester and Gloucester, the Three Choirs Festival. On Easter Monday, 1786, the greatest disaster in the history of the cathedral took place. The west tower fell, creating a ruin of the whole of the west front and at least one part of the nave. Restoration and additions were carried out from 1841 to 1904. Hereford Cathedral houses 10 bells, 140 ft high in the tower. The tenor bell weighs 34 cwt (1.7 tonnes). The oldest bell in the Cathedral is the sixth which dates back to the 13th century. The bells are sometimes known as the "Grand Old Lady" as they are a unique ring of bells.
Other activities include concerts, exhibitions, organ recitals and even a working stonemasons’ yard, where skilled craftsmen are still using traditional methods to restore this ancient and beautiful cathedral. Royal National College for the Blind is less than 2 miles away and easily reached by bus. Most of the cathedral is accessible by wheelchair, including the Mappa Mundi and Chained Library Exhibition. Assistance dogs are welcome. Map of the Cathedral. Guided tours are available.
Books have always been collected by the cathedral community. The oldest volume is the Hereford Gospels, dating from around the year 800, although the history of the library really begins in 1100. The Cathedral acquired a large number of books in the twelfth-century. Copied by hand, these volumes included vital texts on theology as well as ‘glossed books’, which are parts of the Bible with commentary. Most of the books collected from the fourteenth-century onwards were predominantly law books, thus reflecting a major interest of the canons at that time. It is unlikely that the Library had more than one hundred and forty books in its early days. These books were kept in different places in the Cathedral. Some were chained to lecterns, others kept in cupboards, and a number possibly in wooden chests. The first library room was not created until the fifteenth-century, when a special space was built over the west walk of the south-west cloister. Here the books were kept and could also be read. Unfortunately, no furniture from this room survives, though it is likely that the books were chained to sloping desks.
During the reign of Elizabeth I, a commission investigated the goings-on at the Cathedral, and the commissioners found that the books were not being looked after properly. In fact, the Library was described as being in a state of collapse. In 1590 the whole library was moved to the Lady Chapel, thus enacting a principle of the Reformation to convert such a chapel into non-liturgical use, and the Chained Library created in 1611 by Thomas Thornton. Thornton, canon of Hereford from 1583 onwards, was a canon of Christ Church, Oxford, and vice-chancellor of Oxford University in 1583 and 1599. He had seen Sir Thomas Bodley’s design at the Duke Humfrey Library and copied this furniture at libraries he set up at Christ Church and Hereford. To save space, the books were placed upright on shelves, especially as the invention of printing meant that there were many books, and chains attached. This allowed the books to remain safe and secure, but could still be taken off and read on the shelves below.
t seems that the library had many additions during the seventeenth-century and survived the Civil War pretty much unscathed. After the Restoration of 1660, the Library was revived a little and in 1678 witnessed the arrival of the books from the Jesuit College at Cwm, a college that was closed down by Bishop Croft of Hereford. In 1841 the chaining of books came to an end. When major restoration work was carried out on the cathedral, the books and shelves had to be removed from the Lady Chapel. After having been stored in various parts of the cathedral, half of the Chained Library was located in the room above the North Transept, which was open to the public, and the remainder in the Victorian Dean Leigh Library. Today they are all in one location.
The map is signed by or attributed to one "Richard of Haldingham and Lafford", also known as Richard de Bello, "prebend of Lafford in Lincoln Cathedral". Drawn on a single sheet of vellum, it measures 158 cm by 133 cm, some 52 in (130 cm) in diameter and is the largest medieval map known still to exist. The writing is in black ink, with additional red and gold, and blue or green for water (with the Red Sea coloured red). It depicts 420 towns, 15 Biblical events, 33 animals and plants, 32 people, and five scenes from classical mythology. Jerusalem is drawn at the centre of the circle, east is on top, showing the Garden of Eden in a circle at the edge of the world. Great Britain is drawn at the northwestern border (bottom left). Curiously, the labels for Africa and Europe are reversed, with Europe scribed in red and gold as 'Africa', and vice versa.
The map is based on traditional accounts and earlier maps such as the one of the Beatus of Liébana codex, and is very similar to the Ebstorf map, the Psalter world map, and the Sawley (erroneously for considerable time called "Henry of Mainz") map; it does not correspond to the geographical knowledge of the 14th century. Note, for example, that the Caspian Sea connects to the encircling ocean (upper left). This is in spite of William of Rubruk's having reported it to be landlocked in 1255, i.e. several decades before the map's creation. The "T and O" shape does not imply that its creators believed in a flat Earth. The spherical shape of the Earth was already known to the ancient Greeks and Romans and the idea was never entirely forgotten even in the Middle Ages, and thus the circular representation may well be considered a conventional attempt at a projection: in spite of the acceptance of a spherical Earth, only the known parts of the Northern Hemisphere were believed to be inhabitable by human beings so that the circular representation remained adequate. The long river on the far right is the River Nile, too and the T shape is established by the Mediterranean Sea and the rivers Don and Nile. It is the first map to mention the Faroe Islands.
Amongst other locations depicted are: Paradise, surrounded by a wall and a ring of fire. During World War II this was printed in Japanese textbooks since Paradise appears to be roughly in the location of Japan; The Ganges and its delta; the fabulous island of Taphana, sometimes interpreted as Sri Lanka or Sumatra; Rivers Indus and Tigris; The Caspian Sea, and the land of Gog and Magog; Babylon and the Euphrates; The Persian Gulf; Noah's Ark; The Dead Sea, Sodom and Gomorrah, with the River Jordan, coming from the Sea of Galilee; Egypt; The Upper Nile , or possibly an allusion to the equatorial ocean with a land of the monstrous races, possibly the Antipodes; The Azov Sea with rivers Don and Dnieper; Constantinople, left of it the Danube's delta; the Aegean Sea; oversized delta of the Nile with Alexandria's Pharos lighthouse; the legendary Norwegian Gansmir, with his skis and ski pole; Greece with Mt. Olympus, Athens and Corinth; misplaced Crete with the Minotaur's circular labyrinth; the Adriatic Sea; Italy with Rome, honoured by a popular Latin hexameter; Roma caput mundi tenet orbis frena rotundi ("Rome, the head, holds the reins of the world"); Sicily and Carthage; Scotland; England; Ireland and The Balearic Islands.
The Great Charter of Liberties or Magna Carta agreed between King John and his barons at Runnymede in 1215 is one of the most famous documents in history. It is considered the foundation of English common law and much of its world wide importance lies in the interpretation of the clauses from which grew the right of the freedom of the individual or habeas corpus. ‘No free man shall be arrested, imprisoned, dispossessed, outlawed, exiled or in any way victimised, or attacked except by the lawful judgement of his peers or by the law of the land’ This right is most famously contained in the American Bill of Rights embodied in the constitution of the United States of America. The charter agreed at Runnymede was only the beginning of the story. Magna Carta went through a number of revisions and reissues before being enshrined in English statute law in 1297. The most significant revision of Magna Carta was issued by Henry III in 1217. Hereford Cathedral is fortunate to possess one of these 1217 charters only four of which survive. Full translation.
On his accession in 1199 King John inherited enormous wealth and a huge kingdom covering England, Ireland, parts of Scotland and lands in France stretching from the channel to the Pyrenees. He squandered this inheritance by mismanagement, expensive wars, heavy taxation and his harsh treatment of opponents and supporters alike. He alienated the church and his leading, most powerful, subjects who withdrew their support provoking civil war. The barons sought a remedy for the perceived wrongs and abuses of the king by demanding that John agree to a charter confirming ancient liberties. They renewed and increased their demands while also continuing military pressure seizing control of London in May. John finally agreed to meet with the barons at Runnymede, near Windsor, in June 1215. The famous Great Charter (Magna Carta) of Liberties agreed between King John and his barons on 15 June at Runnymede was in effect a peace settlement between the King and his most powerful subjects. It followed the custom of previous English monarchs in confirming existing liberties and privileges of his subjects but went much further in including terms that attacked or curtailed the king’s sovereignty.
Far from achieving peace neither party seemed fully committed to abiding by the terms of Magna Carta. King John appealed to the Pope, Innocent III, who cancelled the charter in August 1215 declaring it ‘as unlawful and unjust as it is base and shameful’ and so only a few weeks after it was agreed Magna Carta was a dead letter. Armed conflict was renewed and the barons invited Louis, son of the French king, to give military support and claim the English throne. A year of civil war followed fought throughout England. King John died on 19 October in Newark leaving his nine-year-old son, Henry, as his successor. On accession Henry III’s position as a minor was very vulnerable. He had only a handful of powerful supporters left King Henry Sealfrom his father’s court and until he came of age he would have to govern through regents. Over half the country was under rebel and French control. It was feared that since the rightful coronation church, Westminster Abbey, was in rebel held London the barons might crown Louis as King of England. So Henry was hastily crowned in Gloucester on 28 October. November 1216 Magna Carta Reissued
On 12 November as a political expedient and in the hope of attracting more supporters or averting civil war, a shortened Magna Carta was reissued. Henry III’s government not only survived it enjoyed military and naval successes defeating the rebel barons and driving out the French forces under Louis. A peace treaty was agreed in September which declared a general amnesty. As one of the first acts of the new settled government the 1216 Magna Carta was reissued with further revisions. A separate Charter of the Forest was also issued. This regulated forest rights and law incorporating and expanding on seven clauses from the 1215 Magna Carta. When Henry came of age he issued Magna Carta in what was its final form ‘of his own free will’ in 1225 under the King’s Great Seal. It contained minor changes and an enlarged final clause guaranteeing the terms. It is the 1217 issue of Magna Carta which is displayed.
Location : 5 College Cloisters, Cathedral Close, Hereford HR1 2NG
Transport: Hereford (National Rail) then bus or 15 minutes walk. Bus Routes : 32, 33, 36, 39, 74, 411, 413, 440, 441, 447, 448, 449 and 454 stop nearby.
Opening Times : Daily 09:15 to Evensong. Tours Monday to Saturday 11:05 & 14:05.
Tickets : Free. Tours £4.00 per person.
Tel: 01432 374202