Illuminate, the latest exhibition in the Mappa Mundi & Chained Library, celebrates light in its different forms.

Illuminate, which opened on Monday 29 January, traces the many representations of light throughout the cathedral including historical details of the physical lighting such as gasoliers and candlesticks. The exhibition also highlights the ways that divine light is presented including the beautiful illuminated letters and manuscripts held in the archives.

An example of an illuminated letter featured in the exhibition is the capital B which is taken from the word Beatus in Psalm 1 of a Glossed Psalter dating from the twelfth century. Whilst made in France, its believed that the elaborate decoration of gold and cobalt blue circles with rosettes was undertaken in England, possible even Herefordshire.

Also on display are the remains of a fourteenth century candlestick in the shape of a man holding aloft two candle sconces. The candlestick was used by the Vicars Choral, alongside a water jug in the shape of a horse and knight, and was the inspiration for a short poem written by the warden of the Vicars Choral. This poem was then set to music by the cathedral’s organist for performance at the Three Choirs Festival in the early nineteenth century.

Alongside artefacts from the cathedral’s own archive is Bishop Swinfield’s Register which is on loan from Herefordshire Archive Service. Dating from 1283 – 1317, the document contains a letter which Bishop Swinfield sent to the Pope appealing for Thomas Cantilupe’s canonisations in which he compares Cantilupe to a candle. Other pages within the document also show Swinfield arbitrating between clergy at the cathedral who are arguing over who should receive the wax offerings left at Cantilupe’s tomb.

Jennifer Dumbelton, Cathedral Librarian, says: “We are pleased to share some of our beautiful illuminated manuscripts in this exhibition, but hope this exploration of the word “illuminate” – from Latin illuminare “to light up” or “to brighten” – will inspire visitors to look differently at the sources of light around them every day as well.”

Illuminate is on display within Mappa Mundi and Chained Library Exhibition from Monday 29 January to Saturday 27 April 2024. The exhibition is open from Monday to Saturday, 10 am to 5 pm and admission charges apply.