Like all the medieval English cathedrals, Hereford Cathedral is a large and beautiful building, begun about 1080, though most of the visible architecture is from the Decorated Gothic period of the 13th and 14th centuries, featuring complex tracery, large windows and ornate carvings. A number of significant modifications were carried out during this time, and not until the 1540s was the structure essentially complete, surviving without further great changes until 1786 when the western tower collapsed, also destroying the west front. The latter was rebuilt several decades later and subsequently altered again, along with changes to other areas, so the cathedral as a whole is less original and less homogenous in architectural style than many others, though no less spectacular.
The cathedral retains some of its original outbuildings, including two sides of the cloisters; the third, west side was damaged by the tower fall, and not replaced. One ruined fragment is part of the wall of the chapter house, once a particularly fine and ornate structure with a fan vaulted ceiling, which had to be demolished in 1769 after damage caused as a result of removal of lead from the roof, for use elsewhere.
The cathedral is part of a group of old buildings, also including the Bishops Palace to the southwest, the College of the Vicars Choral to the southeast, these two separated by (private) gardens, and parts of the Cathedral School to the north and east, all enclosed by lawns and trees which help shield the whole complex from traffic noise and other modern intrusions. The site is scenically situated beside the River Wye just south of Hereford city centre. A little further east is Castle Green, location of Hereford Castle, said once to be almost comparable with Windsor Castle in size, however all the masonry was dismantled in the 17th century and no visible trace remains.
The Diocese of Hereford has a long history; it was created in the seventh century, and in early years services were centered on a small stone cathedral, on the site of the present building. This structure was greatly damaged in 1056 during a raid led by the Welsh king Gruffydd ap Llywelyn, and lay ruined until reconstructions that commenced in 1079 and continued for around 70 years. Some elements of this early Norman building can still be seen including the lower walls of the choir, the columns of the nave, most of the south transept, and the arch between the north choir aisle and the north transept, but all remaining components are from later centuries. Major additions in the 13th century were the lady chapel, above a vaulted crypt, the clerestory above the nave, the roof of the choir, and the north transept, while in the next century the chapter house was constructed, and the central tower enlarged and made more decorative, including by the installation of numerous ball-flower ornaments. The 1500s saw addition of the west tower and three chantry chapels, and the final significant component, the north porch, was completed in 1535. Following the fall of the west tower, on Easter Monday 1786, and the accompanying damage to the west front, the west end of the nave and the west range of the cloisters, several other sections of the cathedral were found to be at risk of collapse, thus necessitating additional changes, including to the centre tower and the lady chapel; the work was completed only at the start of the 20th century.
The main entrance to Hereford Cathedral is through the north porch, approached across College Green, a lawn sprinkled with large trees; there are also two entrances along the south side, from the cloisters. Limited parking is available in the city centre, and the nearest larger carpark is to the south along Wye Street, off Bridge Street, from where the cathedral is reached by a pleasant walk of a quarter of a mile, across the historic St Martin's Bridge over the River Wye, and along a narrow lane that leads to the west end of the building, dominated by the reddish, new-looking, west front, dating from the end of the 19th century. The exterior of the cathedral can be viewed from all directions, walking first through the trees of College Green on the north side, past the east front - the end of the lady chapel, decorated by blind arches, pinnacles and other motifs - then back west, through a corridor that connects with the College of the Vicars Choral, and into the chapter house gardens. The shape of the now vanished, ten-sided, chapter house building is evident from low foundations, and a higher section of the walls of three of the sides, to the south. Remains of a vestibule link with the eastern wing of the cloisters, a corridor which leads to an entrance to the nave. The design of the cloisters is relatively simple, and the ceiling does not have the ornate vaulting that is found at some other places such as Gloucester Cathedral. On the far side is the cloister garden, which has the cathedral to the north and another corridor to the south (not open to the public); the west edge is open.
Inside the cathedral are three relics that are viewable only at certain times, and require payment Ð these are the Mappa Mundi, a famous 13th century world map, a 1217 copy of the Magna Carta, and the Chained Library Ð a collection of medieval (and earlier) manuscripts, fixed by chains to the shelves, this being a common security measure in use during the Middle Ages. The cathedral tower can be viewed via guided tours staged four times each day on three days of the week during summer only Ð involving a climb of 218 steps, but otherwise the cathedral is open all day, every day, and is free to enter. Donations are requested, but the pressure to give is less urgent compared with some other cathedrals, and there are no staff monitoring the entrances. Photographing the Mappa Mundi is not permitted, but other parts of the cathedral are free to photograph, for personal use.
Nave and the North Section
The usual entrance to the cathedral is through the north porch, leading to the nave, which is lined by seven pairs of broad Norman columns (originally eight), supporting the two tier clerestory below the elegantly vaulted roof and the painted ceiling. The west end of the nave has a plain double door below a seven-light Victorian stained glass window, while the east end gives way to the crossing, beneath a high, square ceiling part way up the central tower. Like all the walls, the aisles of the nave are lined with memorials and tombs, ancient and modern, plain and ornate; one of the most colourful in this area is that of Bishop Charles Booth (died 1535), featuring shields and other carvings, painted in red, blue and gold. The north transept has a particularly colourful stained glass window, of recent construction, and contains more elaborate tombs including those of bishops Thomas Charlton (died 1344), Thomas de Cantilupe (died 1272) and Peter Aigueblanche (died 1268). This latter is the earliest tomb in the cathedral, and is also notable for the cross above the canopy, as most of such overtly Catholic symbolism was removed during the Reformation. From the north transept, the north choir aisle leads to the smaller northeast transept, past the Stanbury chantry chapel, which has a fine vaulted roof, in the perpendicular Gothic style, and a recent stained glass window. The alabaster altar tomb of Bishop John Stanbury (died 1474) is opposite, adjoining the choir. The eastern window of the northeast transept contains stained glass from the 14th century, mixed with some more recent additions.
The rectangular lady chapel forms the eastern end of the cathedral; this has an elegant, relatively restrained interior, with narrow ribs supporting the vaulted ceiling, and finely proportioned windows along three sides, together with other memorials including an extravagant canopied tomb attributed to Pier (or Peter) de Grandison, died 1358. A short staircase leads down from the north side of the lady chapel into the crypt, notable for being built after the main body of the church, in the 1240s Ð all other Norman cathedrals have significantly earlier crypts. The south side of the lady chapel adjoins another chantry, built for Bishop Edward Audley in the early 16th century. The southeast transept contains several windows with ancient stained glass, and has a doorway to the vicars' cloister, which leads to the college. The south choir aisle is lined by more effigies and tombs, the most ornate for Bishop Richard Mayhew (died 1516), and leads to the south transept, the east wall of which is the largest surviving section of the original Norman building. Features here include an unusual example of a medieval fireplace, a Gurney stove (a Victorian heater, one of four in the cathedral), and two late medieval tombs, of Bishop John Trefnant (died 1404) and the Denton family; Alexander, wife Anne and an infant.