Hereford City Heritage

The Mayor’s Chain


HC 6000x800

Extracted from the book: ‘Hereford’ - described by Charles Edwardes, published 1912...and also from online information at ‘brittania.com’.


The See of Hereford has been quoted as being ‘one of the few bishoprics which have come down almost without interruption from the first establishment of Christianity in our land until the present day’ It is certainly considered the most ancient in England. Traditionally the erection of the first Cathedral at Hereford or Caerfawydd, as it was then known, was paid for by King Gerran Llyngesoc of Dumnonia (Devon & Cornwall) in AD542; The Bishopric probably being transferred from the nearby Roman town of Magnis (Kenchester). A south-western monarch is, however, unlikely to have instigated such an undertaking in this part of the country and the dates are not quite right for this man. It seems clear that there has been some confusion with King ‘Gerascenus’ of ‘Orcheus pagus’. The existence of this little known King of Ergyng, the early British Kingdom that encompassed most of Herefordshire long before the arrival of the Saxons, is briefly recorded in the life of his son, St Mewen. His Welsh name was probably Gwrgan, as used some generations later in the Ergyng dynasty.

The Iolo Miscellany records that the Bishop of Caerfawydd attended the Synod of Caerleon in AD 544. A later Bishop, possibly Elwystl of Ufelfyw, was supposedly one of the prelates at the conferences held betweenSt Augustine of Canterbury and the Welsh Ecclesiastical hierarchy in AD 602 and 604. It seems probable that these men were Bishops of the whole of Ergyng, with additional seats at Welsh Bicknor (Llangystennin),Kenderchurch (Llangynidr) and Glasbury (in a the early 7th century Bishops of Ergyng are recorded in a jumbled mess amonst semi-legendary early Bishops of Llandaff.

The first Bishop of Hereford, actually named by most historians, dates from the 670s, when the Welsh had been pushed westward and the Mercians were well established enough in this area, which they called Magonset, to appint their first Saxon Bishop. In AD 672, the Synod of Hertford, held by Archbishop Theodore of Canterbury, decided that the Mercian dominion should be divided up into several new dioceses. The old Celtic See of Caerfawyudd was confirmed amongst these with the appointment of Bishop Putta, who was translated from Rochester in Kent, three years later. The eastern portion of the old diocese was given to the new Bishop of Worcester but, in recommence, King Merewalh of Magonset erected a grand new cathedral in Hereford. Its site is not precisely known, as the Priory of St Guthlac, on Castle Green, has been shown to date from around this period and may have been the original Bishop’s seat. Merewalh’s son King Mildfrith, and his family were buried at the Cathedral, probably in the 720s, and the move to the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary may have occurred soon afterward.

Hereford was thus a bishopric before Offa, the dyke-builder of this borderland, ruled in Mercia in the eigth century; but until Offa, or his queen, murdered Ethelbert -the King of East Anglia- in the neighbourhood, its church had no special claim for veneration. It is said to have been a handsome structure, but was then known only as the chapel of Our Lady of Fernley. In 792 Ethelbert came to Offa’s residence at Sutton Walls, four miles from Hereford, ostensibly to be betrothed or married to Offa’s daughter, Elfrida, and was there slain. The legends differ about the mode of his death. Some dispatch him summarily with Mercian swords. One, more highly coloured, seats him in a chair in the royal palace and then lowers him, chair and all, into a prepared murder pit. But of the killing there can be no doubt, nor of his subsequent burial a mile away at Marden on th Lugg.........Then began the series of marvels which worked upon the mind of Offa (“that most noble, most illustrious, and most highborn king”, Matthew of Westminster chronicles him), and led to a stone building in succession to the wooden church of Fernley. A spring of water and a bright light rose from the ground at Marden where Ethelbert’s body lay. This was removed to Hereford by one of his servants, and on the way its head rolled to the feet of a blind man, whose sight was at once restored. Other miracles followed, the renown of which inevitably brought pilgrims and worshippers to the shrine of the murdered king, now revered as a saint and martyr. Whether from policy or the prickings of conscience, Offa fell in with popular local opinion about his victim and sent expiatory offerings, which may be regarded as a building and endowment fund for the first of the succeeding cathedrals of Hereford in dedication now to Our Lady and St. Ethelbert.

More detailed information about the Cathedral - its history its present activities can be found on its own web site

The web site of Hereford Cathedral

Click to see a list of Bishops