Hereford Cathedral History Part 3: Post-Medieval Times

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The History of Hereford Cathedral in Herefordshire, Part 3
Edited by David Nash Ford


Dilapidation & Revival

The early 16th century brought with it the Reformation of the Church of England. Being unpopular in Herefordshire, the first protestant Bishop, appointed in 1559, discovered that the Cathedral canons would "neither preach, read homilies, nor minister the Holy Communion, nor do any other thing to commend, beautify or set forward this [Protestant] religion", but instead they "mutter[ed] against it, [and] receive[ed] and maintain[ed] its enemies." The Dean was dismissed, but still the Chapter refused to allow an Episcopal Visitation.

In 1645, during the Civil War, Royalist Hereford was besieged by the Scots. The town successfully resisted the attack, but at the expense of the leaden Chapter House roof which was melted down for the manufacture of defending bullets. Later, the city was occupied by parliamentary forces under Colonel Birch. The soldiers desecrated the cathedral, plundering its rich collection of brasses and library of the Vicars Choral. Dean Croft, however, fought back and denounced them from the pulpit. A bemused guard of musketeers asked if they should shoot him, but he was saved by the Colonel. The Cathedral clergy were then ejected from their homes and replaced by the needy and the homeless. Supposed "Godly orthodox ministers" appointed to preach in the Cathedral the following year were condemned as ignorant and immoral.

The return of King Charles II, in 1660, also saw the restoration of the Chapter at Hereford and, for a while, the Cathedral became noted for its literary associations with the writer, Thomas Trahearne. The following century might be considered a period of offical vandalism at the Cathedral. Bishop Philip Bisse transformed the sanctuary and choir by covering the Norman arches and pillars in plaster and encasing them in oak panelling, the altar became a 'Greek Screen'! His successor demolished the early Norman Chapel of the Bishop's Palace.

In 1786, the western tower, originally built, it is believed, by De Braose, fell, carrying with it two bays of the nave, one of which has never been rebuilt. James Wyatt re-erected it in a very unimaginative style (since replaced) and unfortunately removed the Norman triforium and clerestory of the Nave in favour of the present work. The early 19th century was something of a low point in the Cathedral's history, with the churchyard being overrun by "riot and disorder" and the services blighted by absent vicars choral and hilarious organ recitals. Behind the scenes there were even feuds amongst the canons. This disgraceful situation was largely reformed by Dean Merewether after his arrival in Hereford in 1832. There were major architectural restorations in the 1840s and 50s and, by the following decade, the Cathedral had once more become the popular place of worship which it remains to this day.

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