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5 College Cloisters - Cathedral Close, Hereford HR1 2NG
+44 1432 374200
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A Stunning Piece Of Religious History
Birmingham, England, United Kingdom
December 2, 2011
Best of IgoUgo
During an impromptu visit to Hereford over the weekend, we stopped off at Hereford Cathedral to make a change from the unending farms and fields which was more or less all we'd seen for the first couple of days. Although the cathedral has been ...
During an impromptu visit to Hereford over the weekend, we stopped off at Hereford Cathedral to make a change from the unending farms and fields which was more or less all we'd seen for the first couple of days.
Although the cathedral has been partially rebuilt and added to over the years, there has been a place of Christian worship on the site since the year 794 when Ethelbert, King of the East Angles was interred here after being murdered. Ethelbert was later canonised and the cathedral is dedicated jointly to him and The Virgin Mary.
When planning your visit to this, or any other, cathedral don't forget that while they're stunning visitor attractions their basic purpose is religion and there will be church services held throughout the day. As I'm not religious in any way, shape or form I chose to visit at lunchtime when there would be no danger of me unwittingly forcing myself to listen to a sermon.
From the outside, Hereford Cathedral is imposing yet beautiful. It dominates the Hereford skyline and is prominently in view from most directions, the stonework and carvings on the exterior of the cathedral are detailed and blend in fantastically with the building itself. On our way out of Hereford in the early evening, we passed the cathedral and it was subtly lit from the ground making it seem much softer and more romantic then it appears in stark daylight. The grounds are well kept and there was no litter, which is amazing considering the amount of visitors this place attracts every day!
There's plenty to look at once you're inside the huge front doors of Hereford Cathedral. The main area of the church (sorry, but I'm not up on religious building terminology!) is a long thin shape, with dramatic stone pillars and various religious and local artefacts to grab your eye as you wander along. The stained glass windows are beautiful, intricately worked and stunning in the bright winter sunlight. I can imagine the effect would be amplified in a warmer summer's sun, but a well worked stained glass window is gorgeous in any light.
One thing you have to see is the 'Chained Library'. Here there are over 200 books and manuscripts, written at varying times throughout history although concentrating on medieval work. Each book is chained to the bookcase, with just enough chain to take a book to one of the reading desks in this large section of the cathedral. This is for both security and historical reasons, back in the times when books cost a lot more than £3.99 they would be stolen to order and the idea of chaining them to the bookcases was born. This is, apparently, the only Chained Library to have been reconstructed in modern times and is one of two things which makes Hereford Cathedral unique.
The second thing is the Mappa Mundi. This is a map of the world as known in the early 1300's; with the holy land of Jerusalem as the centre of their world with the continents spreading outwards. The entire map is then filled with intricate and very 'olde worlde' drawings to depict the history of both mankind and natural history. In fact squeezed onto this 1.5 metre square sheet of vellum are over 500 drawings, which is an amazing feat of workmanship and worthy of more praise than any 'modern' art. The Mappa is fantastic; I stood staring at it for a quarter of an hour just trying to take in the drawings of various cities and ancient mythology. At the end of my visit to the cathedral I went back and stared at it for another fifteen minutes, it's *that* intriguing. The Mappa Mundi is a unique historical artefact and it's displayed in a respectful and almost haunting way, softly lit and protected from the outside world in a beautiful display area.
Throughout the cathedral are tapestries, wood carvings, effigies atop ancient tombs. Everything you'd expect a cathedral to house basically. Displays are attractive and interesting, much of what you'll see isn't aesthetically perfect but this fact is overwhelmed by the sheer history of these objects. I was like a kid in a toy shop for the first ten minutes we were inside the cathedral; I'd walk towards one thing and get sidetracked by something else I'd spotted, then detour to another item before racing back to my original piece. When I realised the cathedral wasn't going anywhere I took a more leisurely stroll through the exhibits and wings, taking in everything from a distance and getting closer to study objects of interest.
Seeing everything, including a coffee in the lovely café, took us around two hours. It'd be possible to rush through the cathedral in a quick half an hour, but you really wouldn't be getting the benefit of your visit as some of the displays are quite understated and you need time to look at them properly in order to understand the reason they were included in the cathedral exhibits.
The gift shop is, in my opinion, overpriced and rather pompous. Here they've gone for the image of the Mappa Mundi on everything from tea towels to paperweights. Everything looked to be of excellent quality, but the prices are hardly Christian with the aforementioned (very small) paperweights costing anything from £9 to £17! To give you an idea of prices, I picked up a couple of Mappa Mundi postcards, an activity book for each of my kids and an ugly pewter-type brooch for my hippy sister and this totalled £13.
Saying that, I don't really mind places like this overcharging in the gift shop. After all, you're getting in for free and seeing a bit of much needed culture so I can't begrudge them helping to fund themselves. Again, don't forget church services are held in the cathedral so you may want to plan your visit to coincide with (or avoid) the prayers. Pick up a free guide inside the entrance; this will tell you which areas in the cathedral are being used at what times and will also 'walk' you around the exhibits, drawing your attention to objects of religious significance which otherwise you may have missed.
To find Hereford Cathedral, simply head into Hereford and follow the signs which will literally lead you in a straightforward route to the doorstep, the final signpost being directly opposite the cathedral wall.
I'll come back to Hereford Cathedral. It's not overly religious, when reading that take into account that as a CATHEDRAL it's basically a holy place not a museum, I mean it's not 'in yer face, I'll convert you before you leave' religious. Y'know? When I come back I'll bring the kids and let them have a go at the brass rubbing which is available at the cathedral, I'll also climb the cathedral tower which was closed during our visit. It's an interesting couple of hours away from the general bustle of Hereford, and those Mappa Mundi postcards have made a cool display in my bathroom!