Hereford Cathedral History Part 2: Medieval Times

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The History of Hereford Cathedral in Herefordshire, Part 2
Edited by David Nash Ford


Of Bishops & Saints

Twenty years elapsed before any attempt was made to raise another Cathedral. The task fell to the lot of Robert Losinga of Lorraine, the first Bishop under Norman rule, and his successors. For some seventy years, from 1079, scaffolding and construction labourers were a common site in Hereford. The results are the Norman architecture still to be seen today in the choir, choir aisles, transepts and nave.

The Conquest brought prosperity to the Cathedral in other ways too. King William I restored manors to the See of which it had been deprived by Harold II, while his successors issued licences for fairs and markets on episcopal domains and confirmed possessions enjoyed before, or sanctioned forest rights. Men of all classes were moved by the glorious ideals and Christian faith, of which Hereford Cathedral is a symbol. The rich and noble were not the only benefactors, for there are many charters in which the offerings of tradesmen and mechanics are recorded. One deals with the rent-charge of one penny by Richard de Medimor on land in Madeley; John, the cook's son (Johannes Filius Radulphi cod), gives a ground rent of tuppence "to the Church of Hereford "; Dean Jordan gave land in 1175 "to brew good beer for the canons." David d'Aqua, after purchasing land to increase the income of his prebend, gave the tithes from it, about the same time, to provide money for a distribution amongst the clergy of simnel cakes. These were eaten in his memory from that day forward till the ministers of Queen Elizabeth had the little fund diverted for an usher in the Cathedral School. Another kindly spirit, Elyas of Bristol, bethought him, in AD 1230, of "ampler commons of bread and beer."

In the 13th and part of the 14th centuries, the Cathedral lacked funds. During Bishop Hugh Foliot's period of office, the hospital of St. Aethelbert in Hereford was founded, but it was the citizens who pledged themselves to pay for its support from "a tithe of their fair on St. Denis' Day; and the Abbot and convent of Bristol showed their sympathy by substantial offerings of beans." It was Foliot who excommunicated the citizens of Hereford for unjustly distraining on his tenants for the payment of local rates.

Hereford, like the neighbouring Cathedrals of Worcester and Gloucester which share the Triennial Choir Festival, has been noted for the excellence of its music. It was Bishop Putta who fostered the teaching of the Gregorian Tones introduced by St. Augustine to England, and to the use of which Archbishop Theodore gave his support. From 1215, Hereford possessed its own liturgy, known as " The Hereford Use" and, in that connection, is one of the cities referred to in the Book of Common Prayer's preface; the others being York, Salisbury, Lincoln and Bangor. A fine 13th century Miscellany of the Hereford Use, containing a quantity of choicely illuminated church music, is one of the Cathedral's most cherished treasures.

Peter D'Aquablanca, a Southern Frenchman, stamped his influence most markedly on the dignities and fabric of the Cathedral and "carried through with little scruple financial expedients which were in the interest of the English Crown and the Papal Court, and which made him perhaps the most detested man throughout the religious houses and rectories of England, causing Matthew of Paris to write of him that his memory 'exhaled a sulphurous stench.' " His agent Bernard, Prior of Champagne, was also much detested, and was murdered in the Chapel of St. Mary Magdalene - non religiosus sed irreligiosus (Annals of Tewksbury).

In the mid-13th century, Bishop D'Aquablanca rebuilt the north transept, which can be compared with the earlier Norman work, and "discontented canons who disliked the innovations were forced, by papal bull, to bear their share of the expenses." Peter unsuccessfully appealed, in 1250, to King Henry III and to Rome to sweep away ancient precedents in matters concerning the rights of the Dean and Chapter. He, however, was too generous to harbour long any ill-feeling for those who had opposed him and vested in the Dean and Chapter the control of the charity he had endowed with lands at Holme Lacy, and made other benefactions. He is said to have been the prelate "whom Robin Hood robbed in the glades of merry Barnsdale."

Of the many interesting Herefordian documents, the reader is tempted to linger longest over those relating to St. Thomas Cantilupe, the Bishop of Hereford who was canonised in 1320. Cantilupe was the son of William, Lord Cantilupe, and his wife Millicent, Countess of Evreux. He died near Orvieto. While his bones were being conveyed into Hereford Cathedral, says an old writer, "Gilbert, Earl of Gloucester, approached and touched the casket which contained them 'whereupon they bled afresh.'" So deeply impressed was the Earl that he made "full restitution of all lands which Bishop Cantilupe had rightly claimed of him." Marvels of faith-healing associated were with the name of Cantilupe and the recognition of his sanctity brought many pilgrims to his shrine. Originally housed in the Lady Chapel, where the noble clammered to be laid to rest by his side, the shrine was later removed to the more open area of the north-east transept. There it has survived, in a remarkably good condition, to this day. A fabric roll shows that over 4,000 was given, in one year, by devotees "attracted by the fame of the wonder worker". This sum enabled the erection and the decoration of the central tower to be undertaken, insecure foundations were underpinned, the aisles rebuilt and much of the eastern transept was reconstructed.

Also much-prized, by medieval pilgrims and modern episcopal authorities alike, is a chasse, or reliquary, of early 13th century Limoges work still kept at the Cathedral. It consists of a small enamelled casket depicting the Martyrdom of the other St. Thomas, Thomas A'Becket of Canterbury; and once, no doubt, contained some small relic of this man or his life. Hereford Cathedral's greatest treasure, however, is the celebrated "Mappa Mundi" preserved in a modern building tastefully erected, at the end of the Bishop's Cloister, to blend with the rest of the Catherdal architecture. This rare window onto the Medieval World view now forms the centre piece of a fascinating exhibition which includes the re-assembled Cathedral Library. This is particularly noteworthy for its chained books which, for 200 years, stood in the Lady Chapel, almost unseen and unknown until the restoration of the chapel by Cottingham in 1841.

In 1359, the Chapter contracted, with an Evesham builder, to devote the remainder of his working life to the Cathedral for three shillings a week and a daily loaf of bread, and to give instructions in the arts of masonry and carpentry to the labourers under him. Thus much of the Cathedral we see today dates from additions of the 14th & 15th century.

Partly edited from "Cathedrals" (1924).

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