Pilgrimage at Hereford Cathedral
Pilgrimage has been a vital part of the spiritual life of Hereford Cathedral since its foundation.
The Anglo-Saxon king, Ethelbert, aged about 14, travelled here from East Anglia to seek marriage – became involved in political intrigue and was beheaded by King Offa in 794. After his death, various miraculous happenings (chronicled by later medieval writers) suggested Ethelbert’s holiness, and his tomb in what became Hereford Cathedral became a place of pilgrimage and healing until the 14th century.
Thomas Cantilupe was born in 1218 of noble birth. He was a clever academic, studying at the universities of Oxford and Paris and he became Chancellor under Edward I. In 1275 he became Bishop of Hereford and was well known for his holy life and devotion to his diocese. But he had red hair and was said to be very feisty! This led to his disagreement with the then Archbishop of Canterbury, John Pecham, over land rights in the diocese.
Cantilupe was ex-communicated – a terrible sentence in medieval times. He determined to clear his name and, in March 1282, set out to travel to Italy, to plead his case with Pope Martin IV. Although he received absolution, he died of fever on 25 August 1282. His bones were brought back to Hereford and buried in the north transept. On Easter Monday 1287, a series of miracles began, which lasted well into the 14th century.
When reviewed by Commissioners in 1307, over 400 miracles had been recorded – second only to Thomas Becket in Canterbury. Thomas Cantilupe was proclaimed a saint in 1320 and 2 October was settled as his feast day. On 25 October 1349, his remains were translated to a new shrine in the Lady chapel and new effigies of bishops were provided either side of processional aisles, to lead pilgrims to the greatest of al the bishops – one who had received sainthood.
At the same time, offerings at the shrine of St. Thomas helped re-build parts of the cathedral – notably the central tower, with its ball-flower decoration.
In the late 14th century, the cult of St. Thomas declined and in the late 1540s, the shrine itself was destroyed, and the relics dispersed. However, devotion to St. Thomas continued in a modest fashion and there is evidence of his relics being used in a procession in Hereford in 1610, to ward off plague.
Thomas Traherne is not a saint in the accepted understanding – the Church of England has no machinery for canonisation – but he is included in recent revisions of the Lectionary, as a holy person whose life should be celebrated widely. Born in c. 1636, the son of a Hereford shoemaker, Traherne spent most of his early life in this area, going to Brasenose College Oxford to study and returning to Herefordshire as Rector of Credenhill, a village a few miles from the city.
There he ministered faithfully to his flock and wrote poetry and prose – much of it celebrating the goodness and wonder of God. He took up new work in London in the early 1670s and died at Teddington in 1674, being buried in St.Mary’s Church. Little was published in his lifetime, and his work was hardly remembered until a re-discovery of his writings in the early 20th century. He is now seen as a great exponent of 17th century writing.
Hereford’s three saints
Hereford thus has three ‘kinds’ of saint:
- St.Ethelbert – a saint of pre-medieval times when saints were ‘acclaimed’ by the people
- St.Thomas of Hereford – a medieval saint, canonised after a long and exhaustive enquiry
- Thomas Traherne – a Church of England ‘saint’ or holy person.
Celebrating the Saints today
In recent years, we have sought to find ways of celebrating our three saints as a way of understanding their contribution to the Cathedral over the centuries and as a means of deepening our prayers. Celebrating the Saints is a project in which we invite all to join.
St.Ethelbert is commemorated by a shrine-like structure in the retro-choir, near to the Lady chapel. This tells the story of our Saxon saint, in 12 episodes – brilliantly painted icon images by Peter Murphy.
- The story in 2 brilliantly coloured fabric panels with 12 ‘episodes’
- a completion of the medieval shrine base, with a gilded canopy and an apex icon featuring the saints of Hereford
- an intercession board and candle stand, where pilgrims may light candles and leave their prayers.
- an altar, where the Eucharist is celebrated regularly.
Here, pilgrims may sit or kneel to pray, and find a time of quiet.
Thomas Traherne is commemorated by four stained glass windows in the Audley Chapel, off the Lady Chapel. These are by Tom Denny (whose work can also be seen in Tewkesbury Abbey, Gloucester Cathedral and Malvern Priory) and use many phrases or images from Treherne’s writings, which are ‘translated’ into stained glass in a most colourful and imaginative way.
Whole Traherne Window image
A pilgrimage route
Visitors are invited to take one of the leaflets from the board in the north transept and to use it to make their own ‘mini-pilgrimage’ around our three saints.
Download the Hereford Cathedral Pilgrimage here
Download the Prayers for Pilgrims at Hereford Cathedral here
Prayer at the shrines
Visitors and pilgrims are invited to use the intercession board near to the shrine to leave their own prayers.
Prayers are offered at the Shrine of St.Ethelbert each Friday at 12 noon – Friday the day of Christ’s Passion and death – and we remember all those who suffer in the world today.
During the summer months there is a series of evening pilgrimages, led by one of the Cathedral clergy. Each pilgrimage takes the form of a Eucharist, focusing on each of our saints in turn, and ending with a social time.
For further information on Hereford pilgrimages, contact:
The Cathedral Office
5 College Cloisters