Flowing under the ancient Wye Bridge, the River Wye runs through the old city and past the cathedral grounds. This great structure is predominantly Norman but, in common with the majority of English cathedrals, Hereford Cathedral as seen today is the result of a constant process of additions, alterations and rebuilding. Conveniently located beside the river, this has been a site of worship for over 1300 years, but the first stone structure is thought to have been erected cAD825. A Saxon cathedral was built over the tomb of the slain King Ethelbert and, following his canonization, he became a patron saint of the Cathedral.
The first major rebuilding of Hereford Cathedral came after the Norman Conquest and it is from this fabric that the present structure has blossomed. Vivid reminders of the sturdy Norman work are best seen in the main body of the church, where the vast round piers stretch along either side of the nave.
Contrasting with the big, bold brick structures, there is a beautifully carved set of narrative capitals in the Romanesque style, behind the High Altar at the east end of the church. During the 13th Century this part of the cathedral was altered to create an ambulatory, and a magnificent 'gothic look' Lady Chapel. As the first British chapel of its kind, the superb elegance of the Early English architectural style warrants Hereford Cathedral's claim as the most beautiful in the country.
When the central tower and the Chapter House were constructed in the 14th Century, the style was more lavish than previously used, and was a good indication of the wealth of Hereford Cathedral at that time. Although only fragments remain, to be seen in the grounds of the cathedral, of the once gloriously vaulted, ten-sided Chapter House, a sketch made in the early 18th century shows the splendour of its Decorated style. It is unusual to see a cloister arrangement outside of monastic churches, but in the 1470s cloisters were added at Hereford Cathedral to link the college and domestic buildings to the church.
Suffering wilful damage at the time of the dissolution, and further destruction during the Civil War, Hereford Cathedral began to decay rather seriously. Despite several attempts to arrest the situation, the inevitable collapse of the entire west end occurred on Easter Monday in 1786. James Wyatt was responsible for the rebuilding, and the restoration of the west front. But in 1908 most of his gothic work was replaced by the grandeur of Oldrid Scott's design. Hereford Cathedral did not escape the traditional Victorian restoration, and what the visitor sees today is the wonderful intermingling of several distinctive periods of fashion and style.
Hereford Cathedral has never been a monastic foundation, but it is an important secular foundation and for the best part of 12 centuries it has comprised of three main elements, the church, the library and the school. Today two of Britain's most important historical treasures, the Mappa Mundi and Chained Library, are proudly displayed in the new library building at Hereford Cathedral. Over the centuries the cathedral school has grown and developed with the times and now accommodates as many girls as boys.