I have written about Hereford Cathedral’s Mappa Mundi and chained library. They remain the best reasons to visit it. The library contains one of 4 original versions of the 1217 Magna Carta. It’s a copy seldom displayed due to age. Despite its early founding in the 8th century, the cathedral seen today is largely the result of a 19th century restoration. It looks far older and has many modern touches that makes it worth touring. During our walk with a new guide named Jenny, I spent most of my time looking for what was the result of this redo, like a rare Victorian Warm Air stove, or at least something added fairly recently. I found some interesting updates.
Experts say the oldest parts of this cathedral, which was severely damaged in the 17th century Civil War, are the south transept and the bishop’s chapel, but no one knows for sure. Hereford had always had benefactors like Lennox Lee for upkeep and restoration and it shows. King Charles II, for example, diverted collected rents for repairs after the war.
Unlike other English cathedrals that seem more like museums than active churches, Hereford Cathedral remains a definite place of worship. We tried to hear its famous mixed-age, male choir but learned that it was resting after performing in France for the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings. We attended an evening prayer service instead.
Hereford Cathedral celebrates 2 saints and 2 citizens of Hereford that make it unique. Seen above and in the cathedral is a contemporary scene from the life of St. John the Baptist. He is a patron saint of this place of worship and considered one of the last great prophets of the bible. This cathedral also dotes on the Virgin Mary and reveres St. Ethelbert, the boy king who was beheaded at the age of 37. Ethelbert was born in 779 and came to Hereford later. The colorful but basically blue and red memorial column seen above tells his story. The other saint honored here is St. Thomas of Hereford, a much loved bishop who was born in 1218. Many healing miracles are attributed to him. The other local was Thomas Traherne, whom I had never heard of. There is more about him below.
A lot of Hereford Cathedral’s interior is not accessible and not seen on the free tour that’s offered every day except Sunday. Also popular is the Tower Tour that takes visitors up 218 steps for a fine view of Herefordshire. Because this climb includes several stops in areas not usually opened to the public, there’s a fee required. This cathedral’s gardens are also unique and can be visited for a fee. The cathedral tour also does not include Mappa Mundi or the chained library. Enough of this massive red sandstone building dedicated to Ethelbert is seen, however, that one does not feel cheated. A 12th century chair brings the distant past to mind while some contemporary stained-glass windows entertain, like the mostly blue 2017 installation below that commemorates the founding of the SAS (Special Air Service) in 1941.
Thomas Traherne was a local priest, poet, and mystic in the 17th century. Much loved, he often wrote about the sources of true happiness and remained local. Four of his prose works weren’t rediscovered until the end of the 20th century, and some think a lot of his writing remains unfound. Traherne said, “You are as prone to love as the sun to shine”. His chapel in Hereford Cathedral was dedicated in 2007. That’s him below.