THIS year has seen Hereford's turn for the Three Choirs Festival and hence many visitors in the historic cathedral city. Hereford stands at the centre of the Wye Valley which includes Tintern Abbey, Monmouth, and, in Ross-on-Wye, an unusually attractive country town.
Houses and street-scape apart, the chief attraction of Hereford is its cathedral, of architectural interest and with a wealth of contents. The original Romanesque building was impressive, with a short presbytery, flanking towers, in the Rhenish manner, at the end of each choir aisle, and much excellent Norman detail. It was built, initially under the superintendence of Bishop Walter of Lorraine, and then under his twelfth-century successors. The thirteenthcentury builders vaulted the choir, and added its clerestorey, but did not rebuild the choir completely.
Later additions, throughout the mediaeval period, were somewhat piecemeal and added up to none of the more ambitious architectural unity one notices at Salisbury and Exeter.
The explanation for this diversity at Hereford may well have lain in finance. At Hereford the bishopric and the deanery were both only modestly endowed, and the shrine of the canonised Bishop Thomas de Cantilups can never have rivalled that of St Thomas of Canterbury as a draw for the offerings of pilgrims. So at Hereford the various architectural additions were perforce modest, if in some cases of high quality.
Though the cathedral at Hereford, like that at Chichester and for similar financial reasons, is somewhat "bitty" in its architecture it has an outstanding group of fittings and possessions. The choir stalls and the bishop's throne are fine work of the fourteenth-century, a chair in the sanctuary may date from about 1200 or earlier, and is certainly among the oldest pieces of furniture in the country.
The famous Mappa Mundi, of about 1290, is mainly of biblical interest, with some marvels and mythology thrown in. The world is shown as a flat circle, with Jerusalem in the middle and the Red Sea painted red.
Round the corner in Broad Street Hereford's Catholic parish church is of more than usual interest. The site, for building an earlier chapel, was given in 1792 by the eleventh (the Apostate) Duke of Norfolk whose second wife, a Scudamore of Holme Lacy who eventually went mad, brought the Duke some town property in Hereford.
His break with the Church did not prevent the eleventh Duke, here or in the upkeep of the chapel in Arundel Castle, from providing places of worship for Catholic dependents. The first chapel was replaced, in 1837-39 when Bishop Baines was Vicar Apostolic of the Western District, by the Greek Revival building, with its narrow Greek Doric portico leading to a spacious interior top-lit by a shallow dome.
Dedicated to St Francis Xavier it was built by the Jesuits. Its architect, Charles Day of Worcester, would have been known to the Society, which served the Catholic Church at Worcester, from the fine Ionic Shire Hall he had recently designed in that city.
St Francis Xavier's was later served by the Benedictines of Belmont and now by secular clergy.
Its striking altarpiece stands between a pair of Ionic columns, and its domed tabernacle is modelled on that in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel in St Peter's in Rome.
So classical an interior aroused the wrath of Augustus Pugin who called this Hereford church a "pagan temple" and a "Catholic concert hall".
Bishop Baines, who had presided at the church's opening, took pains to defend the Jesuits and their architect against Pugin's "unauthorised and virulent attack." Two miles south-west of Hereford Belmont Abbey lies between the main road to Abergavenny and a side road which leads to Eaton Bishop; the church is best visited from the latter road, and the abbey and school buildings lie south of the church.
The original church was built by Francis Wegg-Prosser, a supporter of the Tractarians and a friend of Newman. He was much distressed when, in 1848, Newman's old antagonist Dr Hampden, whose liberal theological views were most uncongenial to High Churchmen, was made Bishop of Hereford. Hampden's appointment is said to have been a main factor in Wegg-Prosser's reception into the Catholic Church.
He soon built an alms house and a school on his Belmont property, and followed, in 1854, by the starting of a fine church, of parish church character and planning, which was meant to be used by a congregation of Catholics not living in the city of Hereford. The architect was Edward Welby Pugin, who had just taken over his father's practice.
No plans were made, at first, for the serving of the church, which lay within the Catholic diocese of Newport and Menevia which in those days included the whole of Wales as well as Herefordshire. In a few more years the Benedictines took over the church at Belmont. The building, lengthened to serve monastic worship, became a cathedral and the headquarters of the diocese. It thus ranked as a cathedral priory, and contains the tombs of two bishops of Newport and Menevia, both Benedictines. When the see of Cardiff was established Belmont carried on as an abbey. Its church is smaller than those at Downside and Ampleforth. But its nave, designed for parochial use, and its somewhat narrow eastern limb of the 1860s, are both of character and interest.