Day 6: Hereford – Chained Libraries, Mappa Mundi, and more!

Guest post by Rosie Seidel.

Hi everyone, it’s Rosie.

This morning we had our earliest start of the entire trip in order to travel to Hereford. We caught the train first to Newport, Wales, where we changed trains to Hereford. It was exiting to set foot in Wales, even if it was only for a brief time at the train station. The signs were primarily in Welsh, with English being the second language.

Welsh Sign
Signs in Welsh seen at the train station

When we reached Hereford we made our way from the train station to the Cathedral library. We met with the Hereford Cathedral librarian Rosemary Firman, who presented us with the fascinating history of the Hereford Cathedral library and showed us some of the fantastic holdings, which included illuminated manuscripts and even a book printed by William Caxton!

Hereford Library and Archive Holdings collage
Some of the holdings shown to us by Rosemary

Hereford Cathedral is very special because it hosts the only remaining chained medieval library. A chained library involves the books being chained to the shelves through holes in their covers to prevent them from being stolen. It sure would be nice to go to the library and know that the book you need is literally bound to be there… In a chained library, the spines of the book face in while the fore edges are exposed! Many books in the chained library had titles or subjects written on the fore edge so their medieval users could more easily identify the book they were looking for. Unusual now, protecting the spines of the book over the pages was a common medieval practice. It was incredible to witness something so magnificent and famous as Hereford’s chained library!

Chained Library at Hereford
Chained Library at Hereford

We also were fortunate enough to see the Hereford Mappa Mundi. Personally, it was the reason I was determined to be a part of this trip. I have wanted to see the Mappa Mundi since my first day of my first class as an undergraduate. The Mappa Mundi is incredible and is the largest medieval map of its kind, printed on a single piece of vellum made from an entire calfskin. It is a T-O map, which is characterized by the map’s composition. The map is contained in a circle, the “O,” with its interior crossed by the “T,” which make up the oceans. The oceans divide the land masses and are full of biblical stories and monstrous and mythical creatures (like a unicorn)! At one point the seas were green and the rivers blue, but the pigmentation has faded over time, as well as the gilding that was once present. However, the Red Sea still possesses some of its titular hue. Interestingly, Jerusalem is at the center of the map. During the medieval period, people oriented themselves from Jerusalem, the Holy City. At the top of the map rests Christ in Majesty – Jesus on Judgement Day. Around him people can be seen either entering the gates of Heaven or being thrust into the Hellmouth. Just below Jesus, at the easternmost point of the map, resides the Garden of Eden. These are just some of the wondrous features of the Mappa Mundi, I really could go on for days! Along with the chained library, it was truly great to witness so many medieval treasures in one day.

Mappa Mundi
Mappa Mundi
The unicorn on Mappa Mundi
The unicorn!
England on Mappa Mundi
The representation of England on Mappa Mundi. If you zoom close, you can see London, Exeter, York, etc!

After lunch in the Cathedral café, we met up with Rosemary again to inquire more about Hereford library in relation to our research questions. She was very informative and we had a pleasant visit with her overall. When we left the Cathedral library, we all headed out to explore Hereford a little more. Some went shopping while others decided to go back and admire the Cathedral’s interior. After about an hour we all gathered together again and took the train back to Bristol via Newport. When we returned to our hotel, we all packed up in preparation for our travels to York tomorrow!

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