About the Venue
There has been a place of worship on the cathedral site since at least the 8th century, although no part of any building earlier than the 11th-century bishop’s chapel survives.
The medieval cathedral was not monastic; the governing body, known as the Dean and Chapter, were not monks but secular priests who led active lives in the world. They employed the Vicars Choral, a body of clergy who lived a collegiate life in the Vicars’ Cloister, to sing the daily services for them. The following chronology reflects significant dates in the development of the building and its community.
696The traditional date for the founding of Hereford Cathedral.
794Ethelbert, the young King of the East Angles, comes from eastern England to ask for the hand in marriage of the daughter of King Offa of Mercia (western England). Ethelbert is murdered by order of the King or of his Queen; his remains are interred in Hereford Cathedral, and after his acclamation as a saint, the cathedral is dedicated to him jointly with the Blessed Virgin Mary.
King Offa is famous for building the ditch (‘Offa’s Dyke’) to divide England from Wales, which can still be seen in places. Legend has it that he founded several religious houses as penance for the murder of Ethelbert.
1020–40Athelstan, 25th Bishop of Hereford 1015–56, rebuilds the Saxon cathedral at Hereford.
1055A rebel Welsh army destroys Athelstan’s cathedral; Ethelbert’s shrine and many other treasures are lost. An 8th-century illuminated Gospel Book, the Hereford Gospels, is the only artefact still at the cathedral to have survived this disaster, and is one of the most precious spiritual treasures of the diocese.
1066Conquest of England by the Normans under William the Conqueror.
1107–48The cathedral is rebuilt in Norman or Romanesque style. This is the earliest type of architecture still visible in the cathedral today.
1190sHereford Cathedral has become an important national centre of learning and scholarship. It is believed that a school already existed at this time, making our cathedral school one of the oldest in the country.
1200–20During this time Bishop de Vere commissioned Hereford’s beautiful Limoges enamel reliquary to contain a relic of the murdered archbishop, St Thomas Becket. It was lost during the Reformation, but returned to the cathedral in the early 19th century.
c 1300Mappa Mundi, the only complete world map of its kind to have survived, is made by Richard of Holdingham. As well as a map, it is a fascinating pictorial encyclopaedia of the medieval world. It may have been made for Hereford Cathedral and has certainly been there for most of its life. It is now one of the cathedral’s greatest treasures and a tourist attraction of international importance. In 2007 it became the United Kingdom’s second entry on the UNESCO’s Memory of the World register – a status for documents and collections similar to that of a World Heritage Site.
1320Thomas Cantilupe, 45th Bishop of Hereford, who had died in 1282, is declared a saint by the Pope, and the cathedral is beautified and the the north transept is extended to receive pilgrims to his shrine, which survived the Reformation and has been recently restored. The central tower is heightened and decorated with the ‘ballflower’ ornament for which Hereford is famous.
1349St Thomas’s bones are transferred to a new shrine in the Lady Chapel (at the east end of the cathedral) in the presence of King Edward III.
1538Protestant Reformation under King Henry VIII: Saint Thomas’s shrine in the Lady Chapel is destroyed and all its treasures removed
1611The Chained Library, the world’s largest surviving example, which is still in the cathedral, is created.
1642–49The English Civil War between King Charles I and Parliament. Hereford is eventually captured by Parliamentary forces after a long siege. Dean Herbert Croft preaches against the desecration of the cathedral by the Parliamentary soldiers, who threaten to shoot him, but are prevented by their commander, Colonel Birch.
1786The west tower of the cathedral collapses overnight on Easter Monday, 17 April.
1841–63Major restorations of the cathedral.
1894–1919James Wentworth Leigh is dean of the cathedral. In 1871 he had married Frances Butler, an American lady, daughter of the actress Fanny Kemble and Pierce Butler, and from 1873 to 1877 he had helped her manage the plantation that she had inherited in Georgia. Mrs Leigh died in Hereford in 1910; a splendid stained glass window was installed in the cathedral in her memory.
1996Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II opens the award-winning new library building at Hereford Cathedral, partly funded by Sir Paul Getty (J Paul Getty Jr) to house the Mappa Mundi, the Chained Library, and the modern library and archives.
2014Hereford’s Magna Carta and the associated King’s Writ (dated 1217 and issued from Runnymede) go on display in the Houston Museum of Natural Science in Texas, the first time either document has left the UK.
2015Hereford Cathedral’s 1217 copy of the Magna Carta and the King’s Writ are taken on a world tour marking the 800th anniversary of the original issuing of Magna Carta in 1215.