Hereford Cathedral
5 College Cloisters
Cathedral Close
Herefordshire HR1 2HG
The Cathedral at Hereford in England is not only a lovely old building but also the possessor of three medieval treasures – the Mappa Mundi, a Chained Library of illuminated manuscripts and a 1217 Revision of the Magna Carta. These medieval treasures are housed in a new Library building and the subject of a special exhibition.
Although a visit to the Cathedral is free of charge, there is a cost to view the special exhibition of treasures.
Admission Costs Special Exhibitions
For admission costs go to  Web:  Visit Mappa Mundi
Exhibition Open
Monday – Saturday: 10:00 – 17:00.
Closes 1 hour earlier in winter.
Last admission 30 minutes before closing.
Mappa Mundi
Mappa Mundi is drawn on a single sheet of vellum (calf skin) measuring 64 x 52 inches (158 x 133 cm), tapering towards the top with a rounded apex. It is unique and records how thirteenth-century scholars interpreted the world in spiritual as well as geographical terms.
The geographical material of the map is contained within a circle measuring 52 inches (132.08 cms) in diameter and reflects the thinking of the medieval church with Jerusalem at the centre of the world.
Superimposed on to the continents are drawings of the history of humankind and the marvels of the natural world. These 500 or so drawings include around 420 cities and towns, 15 Biblical events, 33 plants, animals, birds and strange creatures, 32 images of the peoples of the world and 8 pictures from classical mythology.
The map bears the name of its author 'Richard of Haldingham or Lafford' (Holdingham and Sleaford in Lincolnshire). Recent research suggests a date of about 1300 for the creation of the map.
Renowned medieval manuscript authority, Christopher de Hamel, has said of the Mappa Mundi, '... it is without parallel the most important and most celebrated medieval map in any form, the most remarkable illustrated English manuscript of any kind, and certainly the greatest extant thirteenth-century pictorial manuscript.'
For images of the map click on  Web:  Explore Hereford Cathedral Mappa Mundi
The Chained Library
There has been a working theological library at the cathedral since the 12th century but there were books at Hereford Cathedral long before this. The earliest and most important book is the 8th century Hereford Gospels; it is one of 229 medieval manuscripts which now occupy two bays of the Chained Library.
Chaining books was the most widespread and effective security system in European libraries from the Middle Ages to the 18th century. Hereford’s 17th century Chained Library is the largest to survive with all its chains, rods and locks intact.
How are the books chained up?
A chain is attached at one end to the front cover of each book; the other end is slotted on to a rod running along the bottom of each shelf. The system allows a book to be taken from the shelf and read at the desk, but not to be removed from the bookcase.
The books are shelved with their page edges, rather than their spines, facing the reader (the wrong way round to us); this allows the book to be lifted down and opened without needing to be turned around - thus avoiding tangling the chain.
The specially designed chamber in the New Library Building not only means that the whole library can now be seen in its original arrangement as it was from 1611 to 1841, but also allows the books to be kept in controlled environmental conditions according to modern standards of presentation.
For images of some of the medieval books go to Web:  Hereford Cathedral Chained Library
1217 Magna Carta
The Magna Carta signed at Runnymede in 1215 is Britain’s most important historical and legal document. In fact, most of the world’s democracies are based on the freedoms espoused in the ancient charter. Only eight copies of the original charter are still in existence.
On display in the Library are two important Magna Carta items. The Hereford Magna Carta, was issued by King John’s son, Henry II, in 1217. The charter represents the most significant revision of the original 1215 document. Only four copies have survived and the Cathedral holds the finest one.
The Library also holds the sole surviving copy of ‘King John’s Writ,’a letter issued to royal officials across England, from King John’s meeting with the barons at Runnymede. The document is essentially the Magna Carta ‘covering letter’ which instructs recipients to ensure the terms of the charter are made known publicly, sworn to and kept.
To discover what the Magna Carta states and why it is such an important document, go to  Web:  Mappa Mundi Exhibition/ Magna Carta 
The Cathedral
The Cathedral is open daily for visitors from 09:15 until Evensong (17:30 or 15:30 on Sundays).
Times may vary for services and special events. To avoid disappointment by finding the cathedral closed to visitors, please call the Cathedral Office on their contact number  Tel:  01432 374 200.
Audio Guides
A walk round guide is available for all visitors at the Information Desk, situated at the north porch door.
Disabled Access
Most of the cathedral is accessible by wheelchair, including the Mappa Mundi and Chained Library Exhibition, however parts of the building may be restricted at times for essential maintenance and restoration.
Visitors are welcome to join any of the services that take place at the cathedral. For service times go to  Web:  Hereford Cathedral/ Services
Cathedral Tours
To get the most out of your visit to Hereford Cathedral you may wish to join a guided tour. Tours are planned to run at 11:05 and 14:05 daily Monday - Saturday, they cost £4 and tickets are available from the Cathedral Shop.
If you are interested in joining any of the tours available at the Cathedral you are strongly advised to make contact with the Visits Office first to ensure tours are taking place that day. Sometimes, even at very short notice, tours have to be cancelled due to other important events that take priority. Visits Office, Tel: 01432 374 200.
Garden Tours
Led by volunteer guides and gardeners at Hereford Cathedral, the ‘Secret Gardens’ tour explores the natural world from medieval times to the present day with behind the scenes access to gardens not normally open to the public, including the award-winning Chapter House Garden and the Dean’s garden.
Garden tours are only available during the summer months. Please give the cathedral office a call or e-mail:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.    for information about garden tours.
Tower Tours
Suitable only for fit and active visitors. Climb the 218 steps to survey some of the finest views of the city and county beyond. This informative and fun tour also takes in the Lantern Gallery and Ringing Chamber. Certificates are issued to all who manage the climb to the top!
For tour times and availability telephone the Visits Office on  Tel:  01432 374200 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
- Cloister Café
The cafe is located in the 15th century Bishop’s Cloister.
Open: Monday to Saturday: 10:00 – 17:00. Closed 1 hour earlier in winter.
During summer, free concerts and recitals are often held in the delightful Chapter House Garden adjoining the café.
- Cathedral Shop
Open: Monday to Saturday: 10:00 – 17:00. Closes 1 hour earlier in winter. A wide selection of guidebooks is available from the shop.
Cathedral History
The current Cathedral dates from 1079 but its origins go back much further. It is dedicated to two Patron Saints – The Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Ethelbert.
- Saxon Period
Hereford is believed to have become the seat of a bishopric and the centre of a diocese as early as the 6th century. In the 7th century the cathedral was re-founded by Putta.
Around 830 a Mercian nobleman, named Milfrid, was so inspired by the stories of miracles occurring at King Ethelbert’s tomb in the little Hereford church, that he rebuilt it in stone and dedicated it to the sainted King Ethelbert. Milfrid’s church stood for 200 years before being altered in Edward the Confessor’s reign. The new church was soon destroyed in 1056 by a combined force of Welsh and Irish under Gruffyd ap Llywelyn, the Welsh prince.
- Norman period
The cathedral remained a ruin until successive Bishops undertook its rebuilding between 1079 and 1148. Of this Norman church, little has survived except 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.
- 12th & 13th century
The east end was altered in the 12th century and the Lady Chapel rebuilt in the Early English style with a crypt beneath. The north transept, nave aisles and eastern transept were rebuilt in the 13th century.
- 14th to 16th century
The next two centuries saw the cathedral completed. In the first half of the 14th century the central tower, embellished with ball-flower ornaments, was rebuilt. At about the same time the chapter house and its vestibule were added.
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 the century three chantries were added. The last addition to the cathedral consisting of the north porch occurred between 1504 and 1535. The north porch is now the principal entrance to the Cathedral.
Hereford Cathedral took 440 years to complete and it is a wonderful example of differing architectural styles.
During the 17th century Civil War the cathedral was severely damaged but the greatest disaster occurred in the 18th century. On Easter Monday, 1786, the west tower fell, creating a ruin of the whole of the west front and at least one part of the nave.
James Wyatt was called in to repair the damage but instead of just repairing, he made unpopular alterations. Wyatt’s alterations were replaced during the 19th and 20th century restoration of the west front.
Pilgrimage has been a vital part of the spiritual life of Hereford Cathedral since its foundation. The ancient pilgrims went to seek help from Saint Ethelbert and Saint Thomas of Hereford (formerly Bishop Thomas de Cantiloupe).
Saint Ethelbert
- The Death of Ethelbert the King
The story is that in the 8th century, the Saxon East Anglian King Ethelbert travelled to Herefordshire seeking a marriage partner. He was 14 years old at the time and King Offa of Mercia consented to give his daughter to Ethelbert in marriage. Unfortunately, Ethelbert became involved in political intrigues and in 794 Offa beheaded Ethelbert. The execution, or murder, is said to have taken place at Sutton, four miles (6 km) from Hereford, and Ethelbert's body was brought to the site of the modern cathedral by 'a pious monk'.
After his death, various miraculous happenings (chronicled by later medieval writers) suggested proof of Ethelbert’s holiness, and his tomb became a place of pilgrimage and healing until the 14th century.
St Ethelbert is commemorated by a shrine-like structure in the retro-choir near the Lady Chapel. Placed on the presumed site of the original shrine, is a modern re-interpretation designed by Robert Kilgour, the cathedral architect. Twelve episodes of the Saxon saint’s life are recounted in brilliantly painted icon images by Peter Murphy.
Prayers are offered at the Shrine of St Ethelbert each Friday at 12 noon and on Good Friday when all those who suffer in the world today are remembered.
St Thomas of Hereford (formerly Bishop Cantiloupe)
Thomas de Cantiloupe was born in 1218 of noble birth. He had red hair and was said to have a very feisty disposition. He was a clever academic, studying at the universities of Oxford and Paris and he became Chancellor under King Edward I.
In 1275 Thomas became Bishop of Hereford and was well known for his holy life and devotion to his diocese. He aggressively raised money from local landowners to improve his cathedral and had a life-changing disagreement with the then Archbishop of Canterbury, John Pecham, over land rights in the diocese.
Cantiloupe was ex-communicated – a terrible sentence in medieval times. In March 1282, determined to clear his name, he set out to travel to Italy to plead his case with Pope Martin IV in Rome. Although he received absolution, on the way home he died of fever on 25 August 1282 and was temporarily buried at Orvieto. Eventually, his bones were brought back to Hereford and buried in the north transept of the cathedral. 
On Easter Monday 1287, a series of miracles began occurring, which lasted well into the 14th century. When reviewed by Commissioners in 1307, over 400 miracles had been recorded – second only to Thomas Becket in Canterbury. Thomas Cantilupe was proclaimed a saint in 1320 and 2 October was settled as his feast day.
On 25 October 1349, his remains were translated to a new shrine in the Lady Chapel and new effigies of bishops were provided either side of processional aisles, to lead pilgrims to the greatest of al the bishops – one who had received sainthood. At the same time, offerings at the shrine of Saint Thomas helped re-build parts of the cathedral, notably the central tower.
In the late 14th century, the cult of St Thomas declined and in the late 1540s, the shrine itself was destroyed leaving only the base, and the relics were dispersed. However, devotion to St. Thomas continued in a modest fashion and there is evidence of his relics being used in a procession in Hereford in 1610, to ward off plague.
In 2008 the Friends of Hereford Cathedral decided to re-furbish the medieval shrine base. The tomb of Purbeck marble is in the Decorative style. It has two stages – the upper level is pierced with trefoil arches, and the lower stage has cinquefoil niches containing 14 figures of Knights Templars in chainmail armoour. Bishop Cantiloupe was Provincial Grand Master of that Order in England. The shrine is finished with a gilded canopy and an apex icon featuring the saints of Hereford.
The Friends gave not only to the colourful fabric panels which flank the shrine, but also funded an altar, designed by Stephen Florence, where the Eucharist is celebrated regularly, an intercession board and candle stand, where pilgrims may light candles and leave their prayers.
Pilgrimage Evenings
During the summer months there is a series of evening pilgrimages, led by one of the Cathedral clergy. Each pilgrimage takes the form of a Eucharist, focusing on each of Hereford’s saints in turn, and ending with a social time.
As well as the shrines, there are many other beautiful and fascinating objects in the cathedral:
- The Choir
The choir consists of three Norman bays built in three stages. Forty 14th century ‘mercy seats’ or Misericords decorate the choir stalls. They show a mixture of mythological beasts, grotesques and everyday events but 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.
Against the most easterly point on the south side of the choir is to be seen a small effigy of King Ethelbert, which was dug up at the entrance to the Lady Chapel about the year 1700.
- The Sanctuary
The altarpiece consists of five canopied compartments, with elaborate sculpture representing the 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.
- Stained Glass
There is a mixture of both ancient and modern stained glass within the cathedral. The celebrated 17th century holy man, Thomas Traherne, is commemorated by four stained glass windows in the Audley Chapel, off the Lady Chapel. These are by Tom Denny whose work can also be seen in Tewkesbury Abbey, Gloucester Cathedral and Malvern Priory. He has translated many phrases or images from Treherne’s writings into colourful stained glass in a most imaginative way.
Thomas Traherne, born c. 1636, was the son of a Hereford shoemaker. He spent most of his early life in the Hereford area and went to Brasenose College in Oxford to study theology. He returned to Herefordshire as Rector of Credenhill, a village a few miles from the city.
There he ministered faithfully to his flock and wrote poetry and prose – much of it celebrating the goodness and wonder of God. He took up new work in London in the early 1670s and died at Teddington in 1674, where he is buried in St. Mary’s Church.
Few of his writings were published in his lifetime, and his work was hardly remembered until a rediscovery of his writings in the early 20th century. He is now seen as a great exponent of 17th century writing. The Church of England has no machinery for creating saints, but the Anglican Church sees him as a holy person whose life should be celebrated widely.
The Cathedral has a strong musical heritage with connections to Sir Edward Elgar and the celebrated Three Choirs Festival. One of the cathedral’s most energetic and influential Organists was Dr George Robertson Sinclair (1863-1917). Sinclair was conductor of eight Three Choirs Festivals between 1891 and 1912, working with leading British musicians of the day, including Edward Elgar, who incorporated into his Enigma Variations a portrait of Sinclair and his pet bulldog. A biographical tablet has been erected in the cathedral.
Hereford Cathedral and its surrounding buildings are well worth a visit.
Contact & Further Information
Telephone   +44 (0)1432 374 200
Mail   This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Getting There
Access to the Cathedral is on foot. There is no parking for vehicles.
Google Maps - Hereford Cathedral