Hereford Cathedral

Hereford Cathedral
Cathedral Church of
St Mary the Virgin and
St Ethelbert the King

Hereford Cathedral from the north-west
Hereford Cathedral
Shown within Hereford
52°03′15″N 2°42′58″W / 52.0542°N 2.7160°W / 52.0542; -2.7160Coordinates: 52°03′15″N 2°42′58″W / 52.0542°N 2.7160°W / 52.0542; -2.7160
Location Hereford, Herefordshire
Country England
Denomination Church of England
Previous denomination Roman Catholic
Website www.hereford
Previous cathedrals 1
Style Gothic (Early English)
Years built 1110-c.1250
Length 104.2m
Nave length 48.2
Choir length 22.9
Nave width 22.3m
Width across transepts 78m
Height 50.3m
Nave height 19.5m
Choir height 19m
Number of towers 1
Tower height 50.3m
Diocese Hereford (since 680)
Province Canterbury
Dean Michael Tavinor
Precentor Andrew Piper
Canon(s) Chris Pullin, Canon Chancellor
Kay Garlick, Cathedral Chaplain

The current Hereford Cathedral, located at Hereford in England, dates from 1079. Its most famous treasure is Mappa Mundi, a mediaeval map of the world dating from the 13th century. The cathedral is a Grade I listed building.[1]


The cathedral is dedicated to two patron saints, namely 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. The execution, or murder, is said to have taken place at Sutton, four miles (6 km) from Hereford, with Ethelbert's body 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.

Norman period

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, or, more probably, redone, by Bishop Reynelm, who was next but one in the succession, and reorganised the college of secular canons attached to the cathedral. 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.

Of this Norman church, little has survived but the choir up to the spring of the clerestory, the south transept, the arch between the north transept and the choir aisle, and the nave arcade. Scarcely 50 years after its completion William de Vere, who occupied the see from 1186 to 1199, altered the east end by constructing a retro-choir or processional path and a Lady Chapel; the latter was rebuilt not long afterwards—between the years 1226 and 1246, during the Early English style—with a crypt beneath. Around the middle of the century the clerestory, and probably the vaulting of the choir, were rebuilt, having been damaged by the settling of the central tower. Under Bishop Aquablanca (1240–68), one of Henry III's foreign favourites, the rebuilding of the north transept was begun, being completed later in the same century by Bishop Swinfield, who also built the aisles of the nave and eastern transept.

Bishop Aquablanca

One of the most notable of the pre-reformation Bishops of Hereford, who left his mark upon the cathedral and the diocese, 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.

14th to 16th century: completion of the fabric

A plan of the Cathedral published in 1836.

In the first half of the 14th century the rebuilding of the central tower, which is embellished with ball-flower ornaments, was carried out. At about the same time the chapter house and its vestibule were built, then Bishop Trevenant, who presided over the Bishopric from 1389 to 1404, rebuilt the south end and groining of the great transept. Around the middle of the 15th century a tower was added to the western end of the nave, and in the second half of this century Bishops Stanbury and Edmund Audley built three chantries, the former on the north side of the presbytery, the latter on the south side of the Lady Chapel. Bishops Richard Mayew and Booth, who between them ruled the diocese from 1504 to 1535, made the last additions to the cathedral by erecting the north porch, now forming the principal northern entrance. The building of the present edifice therefore extended over a period of 440 years.

Thomas de Cantilupe

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 40 years after his death, in 1320, the bishop's name was added to the roll of saints. His arms were adopted for those of the see.


The choir stalls support forty 14th-century misericords. These misericords show a mixture of mythological beasts, grotesques and everyday events, there appears to be no pattern to the content.

In addition to the misericords in the choir, there are five others contained in a row of "Judges Seats" It is unclear if these were used as misericords, or if they are just ornamentation.

16th to 18th century

Wenceslas Hollar's engraving of the cathedral in the 17th century.
South West View featuring Wyatt's reconstruction with Cloisters (engraving)

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.

1786: Fall of the western tower

View of the Ruins of the West Tower of Hereford Cathedral, aquatint

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. The tower, which, unlike the west tower of Ely, was in the west bay of the nave, had a general resemblance to the central tower; both were profusely covered with ball-flower ornaments, and both terminated in leaden spires. James Wyatt was called in to repair the damage. As he did at Durham, instead of just repairing, he made alterations which were (and are) not universally popular.

19th-century restoration and 1904 reopening

In 1841 the restoration work was begun, instigated by Dean Merewether, and was carried out by Lewis Nockalls Cottingham and his son, Nockalls. Bishop Bisse's masonry, which by this time had been found to be useless, was swept away from the central tower, the lantern was strengthened and exposed to view, and much work was done in the nave and to the exterior of the Lady Chapel. When Nockalls Cottingham drowned on a voyage to New York in September 1854, George Gilbert Scott was called in, and from that time the work of restoring the choir was performed continuously until 1863, when (on 30 June) the cathedral was reopened with solemn services. The Bishop of the diocese, Dr. Hampden, preached in the morning and Bishop Wilberforce preached in the evening. In his diary, Wilberforce characterises his right reverend brother's sermon as "dull, but thoroughly orthodox"; but of his own service he remarks (not without complacency), "I preached evening; great congregation and much interested."

The west front was restored by John Oldrid Scott over the period 1902 and 1908.[2]

A corbel from the restored West Front of Hereford Cathedral

Between them these restorations cost some £45,000, (equivalent to £4,237,256 in 2015[3]). Since then much else has been done. "Wyatt's Folly", as James Wyatt's west front was often called, has been replaced by a highly ornate façade in commemoration of the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria, whose figure is to be seen at the beautiful stained glass which fills the seven-light (i.e. with seven main vertical "lights", or sections of glass) window subscribed "by the women of Hereford diocese".

20th-century extensions

A new library building was constructed in the early 1990s and opened by HM The Queen in 1996.[4] In 1967 with the new liturgical fashion, the magnificent Scott Rood Screen was removed in pieces and discarded. It has since been restored and is now in the Victoria and Albert museum.

21st-century changes

Work on a new Cathedral Green, with pathways, seating, and gated entrance to the Cathedral was undertaken in 2010 to 2011.

In 2015, the landscaping and restoration efforts at the Cathedral (financed by the Heritage Lottery Fund, which is in turn financed by the United Kingdom's national lottery) involved having to re-bury thousands of corpses, some from the 12th century to the 14th century (some buried in stone-lined graves), from the cathedral burial plot, where, from the Middle Ages until the 19th century, anyone who died on church grounds had to be buried. A knight who may have participated in tourney jousting, a man with leprosy (it was unusual for them to be allowed to be buried anywhere near a cathedral, due to the stigma of the disease back then), and a woman with a severed hand (back then, the punishment for a thief, who would not then typically have been buried here).[5]


Hereford Cathedral houses 10 bells 140 ft (43 m) 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. The Cathedral is the main tower of the Hereford Diocesan Guild.[6]

General description of interior

The nave, with Norman columns, viewed towards the choir
The nave looking west

There is decorative work on the Norman architecture columns and arches of the nave built by Bishop Reynelm's stonemasons. Until 1847 the pavement which had been laid down in the nave completely hid the square bases on which the piers rest. Double semi-cylindrical shafts run up their north and south faces, ending in small double capitals at the height of the capitals of the piers themselves. In the south aisle of the nave are two 14th century church monument tombs, with effigies of unknown ecclesiastics. The tomb of Sir Richard Pembridge, Knight of the Garter in the reign of Edward III, is a fine example of the armour of that period, and it is one of the earliest instances of an effigy wearing the garter. A square-headed doorway gives access from this aisle to the Bishop's Cloister.

At the northern entrance is a porch and Decorated doorway, a good general view is at once obtained. There is a modern rood screen, a spacious and lofty central lantern, and a reredos with a carved spandrel. The Lady Chapel has lancet windows, foliated ornaments and a groined roof. The tomb of Bishop Booth, the builder of the porch, is in the sixth bay of the nave on the north side, guarded by the only ancient ironwork left in the cathedral. On the south side of the nave is the Norman font, a circular bowl large enough to allow of the immersion of children.

Great transept and choir

The choir

The north transept, rebuilt by Bishop Aquablanca in the Decorated period, and restored by Scott, is remarkable for the diapering of the triforium arcade, and for the form of the pointed arches and windows, which have so slight a curvature as to resemble two straight lines meeting at an angle. The north window is filled with stained glass by Hardman as a memorial of Archdeacon Lane-Freer, who died in 1863. In this transept is the tomb or substructure of the shrine of Bishop Cantilupe, early Decorated work which has been restored. Of Purbeck marble, it is built in two stages, of which the lower contains 14 figures of Knights Templars in chainmail armour, occupying cinquefoiled niches; the Bishop was Provincial Grand Master of that Order in England. Between the north choir aisle and the eastern aisle of the transept is the tomb of Bishop Aquablanca, the most ancient of the episcopal monuments in the church. The effigy is an example of a bishop in full vestments; the canopy is supported by slender shafts; the carving throughout is delicate. The south transept is thought by some authorities to be the oldest part of the cathedral, and it exhibits some Norman work, notably the eastern wall with its arcades.

Until its removal in the 1960s there was a wrought iron choir-screen, painted and gilt. Designed by Scott, it was executed by Messrs. Skidmore, of Coventry, from whose works also came the earlier metal screen at Lichfield. After being kept in storage for many years, the screen was completely restored in the late 1990s and re-erected at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

The choir, consisting of three Norman bays of three stages, is full of objects of beauty and interest. The reredos, designed by the younger Cottingham, consists of five canopied compartments, with elaborate sculpture representing our Lord's Passion. Behind it is a pier from which spring two pointed arches; the spandrel thus formed is covered with rich modern sculpture, representing Christ in his majesty, with angels and the four Evangelists; below is a figure of King Ethelbert. Against the most easterly point on the south side of the choir is to be seen a small effigy of this king, which was dug up at the entrance to the Lady Chapel about the year 1700. The Bishop's throne and the stalls, of 14th century work and restored, and the modern book desks and figures of angels on the upper stalls, deserve attention. There is also a very curious ancient episcopal chair.



Tomb of Saint Thomas de Cantilupe


On the south side of the choir is the organ case also designed by Scott. It houses an instrument built in 1892 by Henry Willis, generally considered to be one of the finest examples of his work in the country.


William Wood is recorded as organist at Hereford Cathedral in 1515. Notable organists include the 16th-century composers John Bull and John Farrant, the conductor and advocate of British composers Meredith Davies and the editor of Allegri's Miserere, Ivor Atkins.

See also (Music)

Mappa Mundi

Main article: Hereford Mappa Mundi

In the north choir aisle is Bishop Stanbury's late Perpendicular chantry, a charming little structure with fan-vaulted roof and panelled walls, lighted by two windows on the north side. The alabaster effigy, although slightly mutilated, is a valuable example of mediaeval vestments.

A replica of the Hereford Mappa Mundi, the 14th century world map that was originally located above the altar in Hereford Cathedral.

On the wall of the opposite choir aisle, the celebrated Hereford Mappa Mundi, dating from the later years of the 13th century, hung, little regarded, for many years. It is the work of an ecclesiastic who is supposed to be represented in the right-hand corner on horseback, attended by his page and greyhounds. He has commemorated himself under the name of Richard de Haldingham and Lafford in Lincolnshire, but his real name was Richard de la Battayle or de Bello. He held a prebendal stall in Lincoln Cathedral, and was promoted to a stall in Hereford in 1305. During the troubled times of Cromwell the map was laid beneath the floor of Bishop Audley's Chantry, beside the Lady Chapel, where it remained secreted for some time. In 1855 it was cleaned and repaired at the British Museum. It is certainly one of the most remarkable monuments of its kind in existence, being the largest but one of all the old maps, drawn on a single sheet of vellum. The world is represented as round, surround by the ocean. At the top of the map (the east) is represented Paradise, with its river and tree; also the eating of the forbidden fruit and the expulsion of Adam and Eve. Above is a remarkable representation of the Day of Judgment, with the Virgin Mary interceding for the faithful, who are seen rising from their graves and being led within the walls of heaven. There are numerous figures of towns, animals, birds, and fish, with grotesque creatures; the four great cities, Jerusalem, Babylon, Rome, and Troy, are made very prominent. In Britain most of the cathedrals are mentioned.

In the 1980s, a financial crisis in the diocese caused the Dean and Chapter to consider selling the Mappa Mundi. After much controversy, large donations from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, Paul Getty and members of the public, kept the map in Hereford and allowed the construction of a new library to house the map and the chained libraries from the Cathedral and All Saints' Church. The centre was opened on 3 May 1996.

East transept

In the north-east transept, of which the vaulting is supported by a central octagonal pier, a large number of monumental fragments are preserved, forming a rich and varied collection. There is also a beautiful altar-tomb of alabaster and polished marbles erected as a public memorial to a former Dean, Richard Dawes, who died in 1867. The effigy, by Mr. Noble, is a good likeness of the Dean, who was an ardent supporter of the education movement about the middle of the 19th century. The south-east transept contains memorials of several Bishops of Hereford. The remains of Bishop Gilbert Ironside (1701), together with his black marble tombstone, were removed to this place in 1867 m, when the Church of St. Mary Somersetm in Upper Thames Street, London, was taken down. Here also may be seen a curious effigy of St. John the Baptist, and a fine marble bust, believed to be the work of Roubiliac. The handsome canopied Perpendicular tomb of Bishop Mayo (1516), with effigy fully vested, is on the south side of the altar. In the south-east transept, again, is a doorway that opens into the Vicars' Cloister, an interesting piece of Perpendicular work which leads to the college of the vicars choral.

Lady Chapel

The Lady Chapel

Across from the retro-choir or ambulatory, is the spacious and beautiful Early English Lady Chapel, which is built over the crypt and approached by an ascent of five steps. Of the five beautiful lancet windows at the east end, each with a quatrefoil opening in the wall above it, Fergusson remarked that "nowhere on the Continent is such a combination to be found"; and he brackets them with the Five Sisters at York Cathedral and the east end of Ely Cathedral. They are filled with glass by Cottingham as a memorial of Dean Merewether, who is buried in the crypt below, and is further commemorated here by a black marble slab with a brass by Hardman, recording his unwearied interest in the restoration of the cathedral. In the Lady Chapel are church monuments of Joanna de Kilpec and Humphrey de Bohun, her husband. Joanna was a 14th-century benefactress of the cathedral who gave to the Dean and Chapter an acre (4,000 m²) of land in Lugwardine, and the advowson of the church, with several chapels pertaining to it. On the south side of the Lady Chapel, separated from it by a screen of curious design is the chantry erected at the end of the 15th century by Bishop Audley, who, being translated to Salisbury, built another there, where he is buried. His chantry here, pentagonal in shape, is in two storeys, with two windows in the lower and five in the higher.

Crypt and library

Crypt underneath the Lady Chapel

Though the crypt is small, it is of special interest, as the solitary example of a crypt in an English cathedral built after the Norman period until we come to Truro Cathedral – for the crypt of St. Paul's is only a reconstruction. To its use as a charnel house it owes the name of Golgotha.

The library contains mainly old books in manuscript chained to their places, some of them fine specimens of ancient handwriting, containing beautiful illustrations in gold and colour. Two of the most valuable are a unique copy of the ancient Hereford antiphonary of the 13th century, in good preservation, and the Hereford Gospels, a copy of the Gospels at least a thousand years old, in Anglo-Saxon characters. Another treasure is an ancient reliquary of oak, bequeathed to the cathedral by Canon Russell, who is said to have obtained it from a Roman Catholic family in whose possession it had long been. It is covered with copper plates overlaid with Limoges enamel representing the murder and entombment of St. Thomas of Canterbury.

Other buildings

Between the cloisters, the Bishop's and Vicars', both on the south side of the cathedral, are the remains of the Chapter House. In the troubles of 1645 the lead was stripped from its roof, and we have already recalled how Bishop Bisse most inexcusably completed its ruin. The Bishop's Palace, the Deanery, residences for the canons, and cathedral school are in close proximity to each other. The College, the residence of the vicars choral, forms a picturesque quadrangle.


Hereford Cathedral

The exterior length of the church is 342 feet (104 m), the interior length 326 feet (99 m), the nave (up to the screen) measuring 158 feet (48 m) and the choir 75 feet (23 m). The great transept is 146 feet (45 m) long, the east transept 110 feet (34 m). The nave and choir (including the aisles) are 73 feet (22 m) wide; the nave is 64 feet (20 m) high, and the choir 62½ feet. The lantern is 96 feet (29 m) high, the tower 140½ feet, or with the pinnacles 165 feet (50 m).

Eminent persons

Among eminent men who have been associated with the cathedral – besides those who have already been mentioned – are Robert of Gloucester, the chronicler, prebendary in 1291; Nicholas of Hereford, chancellor in 1377, a remarkable man and leader of the Lollards at Oxford; John Carpenter, town clerk of London who baptised there on 18 December 1378; Polydore Vergil, prebendary in 1507, a celebrated literary man, as indeed with such a name he ought to have been; and Miles Smith, prebendary in 1580, promoted to the See of Gloucester – one of the translators of the Authorized King James Version of the Bible.

Another famous prebendary was Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, who was appointed to a stall in 1510. The list of post English Reformation prelates includes Matthew Wren, who, however was translated to Ely in the year of his consecration (1635); Nicholas Monck, a brother of the George Monck, 1st Duke of Albemarle, who died within a few months of consecration (1661); and two bishops around whom ecclesiastical storms raged, Benjamin Hoadley and Renn Dickson Hampden. Hoadley, by his tract against the Non-jurors and his sermon on the Kingdom of Christ, provoked the Bangorian Controversy and so led to the virtual supersession of Convocation from 1717 to 1852; the appointment of Hampden to this see by Lord John Russell in 1847 was bitterly opposed by those who considered him latitudinarian, including the Dean of Hereford, and was appealed against in the Court of Queen's Bench. Dr. Hampden went his way, which was that of a student rather than that of an administrator, and ruled the diocese for 21 years, leaving behind him at his death, in 1868, the reputation of a great scholar and thinker.

Magna Carta

Hereford is fortunate to possess one of only four 1217 Magna Carta to survive, which in turn is one of the finest of the eight oldest that survive. It is sometimes put on display alongside the Hereford Mappa Mundi in the cathedral's chained library.

See also


  1. "Images of England: Cathedral Church". English Heritage. Retrieved 21 November 2008.
  2. Pevsner, Nikolaus (1963). The Buildings of England: Herefordshire. Harmondsworth: Penguin. pp. 146 and 153. ISBN 0140710256.
  3. UK CPI inflation numbers based on data available from Gregory Clark (2016), "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)" MeasuringWorth.
  4. "New Library Building". Hereford Cathedral. Retrieved 29 June 2015.
  5. Geggel, Laura (14 April 2015). "Battered Remains of Medieval Knight Discovered in UK Cathedral". MSN News.
  6. Dove, Ronald H. (1982). A Bellringer's Guide to the Church Bells of Britain and Ringing Peals of the World (6th ed.). Guildford: Viggers.
  7. "Cathedral post holder named". Hereford Times. 16 January 2003.
  8. "Canon takes on cathedral post". Hereford Times. 5 March 2008.
  9. Shaw, Watkins; Massey, Roy (2005). The organists and organs of Hereford Cathedral (Revised ed.). Hereford Cathedral Organ Committee. ISBN 090464216X.

This article incorporates text from a work in the public domain: The Cathedrals of England and Wales: their history, architecture, and associations ; with a series of Rembrandt plates and many illustrations in the text. 2. London: Cassell. 1906. pp. 17–30. .

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