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On our weekend away in Hereford, I could not miss the opportunity to visit this lovely historic building again. I admit I have seen more beautiful and spectacular Cathedrals and even churches; but this one has a beauty all of its own.
In one sense we picked the right time of year to visit as there were not too many tourists, but on the other hand it is January, it is quite cold (although the cathedral did have a great heating system) and the Library and the Mappa Mundi were not available to be seen.
The Mappa Mundi is the largest complete medieval world map which is housed in the cathedral alongside the chained library which houses manuscripts dating back to the 8th century. Sadly we did not get to this wonderful piece of history as it was closed for cleaning and some restoration work.
So back to our visit, when the taxi dropped us off outside the Cathedral you got to look at the beautiful architecture from the outside with its long arches and it's towers covered with 'ballflowers', which are little stone flowers. You will find many different styles of architecture in this cathedral as it was originally built in the early 1100's, but has over the years been rebuilt and has changed its shape and style. It is most certainly a beauty to look at from the outside and worth a look at the inside if only to see its beautiful sculptures, carvings and stained glass windows.
The Cathedral is still a working church, not only is it open to the public, you may find school parties visiting and learning. Restoration work being under taken, you could also attend one of its services which are held there.
We entered the Cathedral and although there was no charge to walk around, they do ask if you would give a donation and suggest a possible figure of £4.00 per adult. You don't have to, but there is a slot to put your donation in; you could even use a little envelope which is provided. The cathedral relies on donations to help with its upkeep. If you want to take photographs they ask you to visit the gift shop and pay £1.50 for a photographer permit. We did this and treated ourselves to a guide book at £2.99 as well. This is not really required as you do get a small leaflet for free which gives you a map of the cathedral and tells you a little bit about each section.
~~ Gift Shop ~~
As we are in the gift shop I may as well tell you about it. It is like many gift shops very expensive with many tempting and pretty displays to encourage you to part with your well earned pennies. It sold many items depicting the Cathedral and religious icons alongside many things like china, pens, books, jewellery, toys, key rings etc. Amazingly you have to go through the gift shop to get to the Cloister Cafe as well.
~~ Cloister Cafe ~~
We had not eaten or had a cuppa since breakfast in the morning and it was now around 1.30pm so before walking round the cathedral we thought we would have a bike to eat and a drink.
The cafe itself was very small with a line of tables along one wall and benches along the outer wall which leads to the Mappa Mundi.
The first thing I noticed when I walked through the door from the gift shop into the cafe was a woman on the left empting a dishwasher, you then saw the counter selling food extra, I thought this very strange as you usually find these things behind the counter and not to the side of it.
We took a quick look at the list of hot or cold sandwiches and cakes on offer. My hubby asked for a ham and cheese toastie, but was informed that they had run out of ham, so he went for a cheese and onion toastie, I had a toasted tea cake and a cup of tea, hubby chose a coffee and also got me a bottle of water to carry around with me, we got all this for £7.30 which I felt was very good. I have had less and spent more in some of the coffee shops in town. The food was well cooked and tasty; it also filled the gap so we could take a leisurely tour of the cathedral. Incidentally we didn't get an organized tour as these tend to be conducted during the summer months.
~~ Gurney Stoves ~~
I mentioned earlier about the heating in the cathedral, which pushed out an amazing amount of heat, which as you can imagine the large expanse of space inside a cathedral will require an awful amount of heating. This is all provided by these amazing Gurney Stoves which are so wonderful to look at, standing about 5ft tall and virtually the same in circumference with a small crown on the top. There are only three buildings in the country that still run these, one being Hereford Cathedral, the others being Chester Cathedral and Tewkesbury Abbey. They were designed by Sir Goldsworthy Gurney and made in 1858. It is amazing to see such a product standing the test of time.
~~ The Nave ~~
The Nave was originally built in the 1100's and this is shown by its Norman Pillars, but this is one pacific area that has changed even in its size, where it has shrunk rather than grown. It has even changed to fit in with the religious designs of the times over the years, so you will notice these changes in architecture as you look around. You will notice the font in this area which was built in 1150 and has carving of the apostles around it.
~~ Tombs ~~
Around the cathedral you will see many tombs; some show the tests of time with wear and tear; where others seem in remarkably good condition. There were two that stood out for me, one was the tomb of Sir Richard Pembridge, who came from Hereford and was one of the earliest members of the Knights of the Garter. The tomb shows him wearing his garter and his dog at his feet. The book tells me that they lost one of his legs from the original tomb, so it was replaced with a wooden one for a while but that has now been replaced with a stone one as the restoration has been completed on the tomb. So we do still have some talented stone masons around today.
The second one that drew our attention was a tomb of a mom, dad and baby. So I just had to look it up in the guide to discover a little more about them. (This is the great thing about writing reviews, not only do you relive your visit but you learn more about it as well). When I looked up the information I discovered that it was the tomb of Elizabeth Denton and she died in childbirth; although the tomb shows her husband Alexander Denton along with their child with her; he is not actually buried there as he out lived his wife and went on to remarry, so was buried elsewhere.
~~ Stanbury Chapel ~~
This was another section that really stood out for us; I felt it was extremely peaceful inside. It holds the tomb of John Stanbury who was the bishop from 1453 to 1474, when he passed over. The ornate detail in the ceiling is magnificent and with it being a low ceiling it allows you to marvel in the craftsmanship. The stained glass windows here also depict his life; it is well worth spending some time in if you visit the cathedral.
~~ Stained Glass Windows ~~
Anyone that has read any of my church/cathedral reviews will be aware that I adore the beauty and skill that goes into stained glass windows and the stories they tell.
Firstly I will mention a couple of stained glass windows which I didn't like, these are modern ones done by Tom Denny (sorry Tom I just did not like them). They were done to commemorate Herefordshire's 17th century Poet Thomas Traherne. They were bright and garish and modern, you really would need to be a fan of modern art to enjoy them and to me they didn't tell a story, they were too busy.
I love the way the windows that tell us stories; some of them are a little 'busy' like the great north window made by John Hardman in 1864. It depicts the church on the earth on the one set of three panels and the church as it is in heaven on the other set of three arched panels; although it is very impressive it is very 'busy' between the pictures, but it is also very beautiful.
This is a strong contrast compared to the four windows each depicting an angel playing a musical instrument; these were made in 1886 by Burlison and Grylls and can be found in the south choir aisle.
Another less fussy set of windows depict the story of King Charles I visiting Hereford way back in 1645, which was during the civil war; this is a fairly modern design compared to some of the stained glass windows as it was done in 1915 by Powell and Sons from London.
~~ Conclusion ~~
We enjoyed our visit to the cathedral as I love history and architecture so there was a lot to enjoy. Strangely enough apart from the usual items of beauty like the wood carvings, stone carvings etc I really enjoyed looking at those humongous radiators they just amazed me that they were still in full working order and still being used to heat the cathedral.
Whilst we were visiting the cathedral, it is hosting an exhibition called 'ICONS in Transformation' which is being run until 2nd April 2009. I must say I didn't find this very pleasing; as a matter of fact, it was everywhere you looked around the cathedral and I felt it was in the way at times; I did not find it very aphetically pleasing. They also had this giant halo hanging down above the aisle; I really thought this looked gross and totally out of place. I just hope that the cathedral is getting paid a lot of money to show this exhibition. I am sure it will appeal to some people's taste, if it is your taste and you have the odd 1000 GBP to spend then you will be pleased to know that you could purchase some of the artwork; they do provide you with a price list when you enter the cathedral if you are interested.
I will return to visit here if only to visit the library and see the Mappa Mundi which we sadly missed on this visit.
Finally if you are in a wheel chair you can get into the main part of the cathedral, there are some parts which are stairs only that you will not be able to manage, but you will be able to see most of it.
The cathedral is situated in the main town which is now mainly pedestrianized; so you would have to park and walk in, but the bus and taxis will take you to the door.
Thank you for reading,
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!