Vetusta Monumenta: Ancient Monuments, a Digital Edition

Plate 1.49: The Bishop’s Chapel at Hereford

Plate: An unsigned engraving by George Vertue (1684-1756) of the west elevation and ground plan of the Romanesque bishop’s chapel at Hereford, which was based upon one of William Stukeley’s (1687-1765) original drawings executed in 1721. The engraving was ordered on 8 December 1737, and Vertue delivered the prints on 15 June 1738 (SAL Minutes III.74, 142).

Object: The bishop’s chapel at Hereford, originally part of the episcopal palace to the south of Hereford Cathedral, was an extraordinary example of early Romanesque architecture. At present, only the north wall exists. The north wall of the chapel survives because it forms part of the south wall of the southwest cloister. The remaining three walls were destroyed by Bishop Egerton between 1737-46. The remains of the chapel form one of two highly significant medieval structures still partially extant at the Hereford bishop’s palace—the other being the late twelfth-century timber-framed bishop’s hall (Blair 1987; Shoesmith 2000; Thurlby 1995).


Central Text: 1737 The Antient Chappel adjoyning / to the Bishops Palace at HEREFORD.

Banderole, Upper Left: The Western Front of the Bishops Chappel / call’d S.t MAGDALEN’S.

Banderole, Upper Right: A Plan of the Chappel / Underneath S.t MAGDALEN’S.

Details on the Plan of the Chapel:
Wall 5 f. ½.
Breadth 42 feet & ½
Length 57 feet & ½
Wall 5 f. ½.
Depth of the Entrance 19 feet ½

Banderole, Lower: The Pillars of this Building were of one Stone, / the Shafts above 12 f. high, the Roof of Mortar / molded in large squares & arch’d over as of Stone.

Bottom: Sumptibus Soc. Antiquar. London. 1738.

Preparatory Drawings: Click here to see the Preparatory Drawings for Plate 1.49.

Commentary by Matthew M. Reeve: This engraving derives from a collection of drawings of the cathedral that William Stukeley executed in September 1721 as part of a tour of the West Country conducted with Samuel Gale (1682-1754) (Piggott [1950] 1985, 61). Stukeley also recorded upper and lower floor ground plans of the Bishop’s Chapel, as well as west-to-east views of each floor (now Oxford, Bodleian MS top. Gen. d 13). A further exterior view of the chapel was produced on Taylor’s 1757 map of Hereford (which likewise derived from an earlier drawing, although none of Stukeley’s are similar to that in Taylor). As with the chapel, other drawings by Stukeley record parts of Hereford Cathedral now lost, including the former chapter house (Drinkwater 1955). The original drawing is also the source of the inscription in the central banderole below, which is recorded in Stukeley’s own hand. Curiously, however, the engraving switches the position of the two images (the ground plan of the chapel is on the left in the original drawing). The Hereford Chapel plate is one of several plates in Vetusta Monumenta on which the central images are set within a fictive rococo frame (see, among others, Plate 1.43 and Plate 1.45, which also features a bishop’s mitre; analogous kinds of framing devices are also used on Plate 1.53, and the plates of seals that follow it.) Although it is not employed in Stukeley’s initial sketch, the frame was used in Stukeley’s contemporary works, as for example in the engraved tailpieces for his Abury (drawn 1722, published 1743), so the frame around the Hereford chapel may have been his own invention (Piggott [1950] 1985, 62).

The commissioning of the engraving of Stukeley’s drawing by the Society of Antiquaries of London (SAL) in 1737 followed from the announcement of the impending demolition of the chapel (Drinkwater 1954). It came on the heels of a campaign to modernize Hereford Cathedral and the Bishop's Palace during the episcopate of Bishop Phillip Bisse (1713-21). Bisse oversaw the creation of the Bishop's Hall, which was encased in brick, as well as changes to the cathedral, which included whitewashing its interior and adding neo-Classical furnishings to the choir, thereby creating “an oasis of classical order in the heart of the Gothic cathedral” (Whitehead 2000, 250). Work of the 1730s was of a more moderate nature, but the memory of these campaigns was surely in the minds of the SAL (Whitehead 2000, 248-55). The minutes of the SAL record that on 13 April 1738,

Mr. Willis presented the Society with a Section of the Chappel at Hereford and a plan of the upper storey as also the following account: ‘This most venerable structure adjudged to be ancienter than the famous Grymbalde vault in St. Peter's Oxford is undoubtedly of Roman Architecture seeming to have been built abt the end of the eighth century and having no combustible matter escaped when the cathedral was burnt down anno 1056 by the fury of ye Welsh. It consists of two divisions the uppermost of which comprised the ancient Parochial church of St. Mary Magdalen. Both storys were arched and turned with fine mortar, cast into squares. The walls were 5 foot thick, the shafts of the pillars 10 feet high, and the walls so strongly cemented that it was with difficulty demolished even at a quarter the expense that it might have been repaired for, the singular style of awfull [sic] structure the most ancient & entire of its kind in the kingdom has thus recommended the preservation of it to the Society of Antiquaries London.’ (SAL Minutes III.122)

Browne Willis (1682-1760) and Stukeley were well acquainted—Stukeley had served as a draughtsman to Willis in the early 1720s—and it is hardly surprising that he presented Stukeley’s original drawings or a copy of them to the SAL (Stukeley and Gale 1882, 66). Here, as elsewhere in the Society’s endeavor, impending destruction was the impetus to produce graphic simulations of architecture. Indeed, it might be the very pace of the destruction that indicated the need to use Stukeley’s extant drawing rather than commissioning altogether new drawings.

Stukeley published his own commentary on the chapel (without the inclusion of any of his drawings), in his 1724 Itinerarium Curiosum:

Between the cathedral and the episcopal palace is a most venerable pile, exceeding it in date, as I conjecture from its manner of composure; built entirely of stone, roofed with stone; it consists of two chapels, one above the other; the ground-plot is a perfect square, beside the portico and choir; four pillars in the middle, with arches every way form the whole; the portico seems to have a grandeur in imitation of Roman works, made of many arches retiring inwards; two pillars on each side consist of single stones; the lowermost chapel, which is some steps under ground, is dedicated to St. Catherine, the upper to St. Magdalen, and has several pillars against the wall, made of single stones, and an odd eight-square cupola upon the four middle pillars: there have been much paintings [sic] upon the walls: the arched roof is turned very artfully, and seems to have a taste of that kind of architecture used in the declension of the Roman empire. ([1724] 1776, 71)

The Hereford chapel has been understood to represent “one of the most puzzling problems in English Romanesque architecture” (Boker 1998, 44; for complete literature, see Fernie 2000, 233n2). The date, patronage, and iconography of the chapel hinge principally upon Stukeley’s drawings and upon William of Malmesbury’s description in his Gesta Pontificum: “Non multo post accepit sedem illam Robertus Lotharingus, qui ibi ecclesiam terreti aedificavit scemate, Aquensem basilicam pro modo imitates suo” (Not long after Robert of Lorraine accepted the see, and he built there a church of elegant form, having copied for its design the basilica of Aachen) (Hamilton 1870, 300).

William’s description has inspired a range of interpretations. One interpretation suggests that the Hereford Chapel was indeed built by bishop Robert the Lotharingian (1079-1095) and that it was based upon Charlemagne’s chapel in Aachen of c. 800, thus endowing the Hereford chapel with a significant typological pedigree (Drinkwater 1954; Bandmann 1965; Gem 1986). This interpretation has been central to discussions of iconography in medieval architecture that have been framed by Richard Krautheimer’s classic essay (1942). Emphasizing the loose formal relationships between “model" and “copy” suggested by Krautheimer, scholars have noted distant parallels with Aachen such as its two-level arrangement, its central opening, rectangular sanctuary, façade niche, and the western tribune with encased spiral stairs. Other more literal readings have emphasized formal discordances between the buildings and have noted William’s use of the word ecclesia (church) rather than capella (chapel); this has led to the suggestion that the building to which William refers is another structure altogether that was formerly attached to the great church itself and that the bishop’s chapel was a later structure built during the episcopate of Gilbert Foliot before 1148 (Boker 1998). Current thinking has returned to the earlier interpretation and placed the chapel under the patronage of Bishop Robert of Lorraine, arguing that the architectural detail of the Bishops’ chapel accords much more closely with a late 11th century date (Fernie 2000; Thurlby forthcoming).

The members of the SAL offered a variety of opinions about the date of the chapel, most if not all of which were based exclusively on Stukeley’s drawings. In the period, commentators read William of Malmesbury’s account literally, attributing it to the cathedral rather than the Bishop's Chapel, so its wisdom did not enter scholarly interpretations (Rawlinson 1717, 174; Willis 1742, 506, 512). Such interpretations ranged from that of Willis, who maintained that the chapel was “Roman” and built around the end of the eighth century, to that of Richard Gough (1735-1809), who maintained that the chapel was just antecedent to the Romanesque architecture of the cathedral (Drinkwater 1954, 132). These views were based upon an astute understanding that the forms of the chapel derived from what Stukeley described as “that kind of architecture used in the declension of the Roman empire,” now called “Romanesque” ([1724] 1776, 71). While antiquarian practice in the second half of the eighteenth century would produce and promote a rigorous taxonomy of style for medieval architecture, the Society’s views in the first half of the century were based upon readings of medieval documents and an essentially teleological development of architectural ornament. From this perspective, un- or sparsely adorned structures were dated earlier than more ornamented ones in the belief that architecture developed in ornamental complexity over time as a product of an increasingly sophisticated culture. The single point of comparison offered is with “the famous Grymbalde vault in St. Peter's Oxford” (i.e. the crypt of St-Peter’s-in-the-East, Oxford), which the Hereford chapel was understood to pre-date due to its relative ornamental austerity. Aside from those fellows acquainted directly with St. Peters-in-the-East, most knew it via John Leland’s De Rebus Brittanicis Collectanea, edited by Thomas Hearne (1715), which featured engraved images of the crypt and its sculpture. Hearne (and later Willis) followed William Camden’s edition of Asser’s Life of King Alfred (c. 909), which spuriously connected Grymbald, Dean of New Minster in Winchester (d. 901, later St Grymbald), with St. Peter’s, Oxford (Grierson 1940; Crook 2000). Privileging the documentary evidence, the crypt of St Peter's was assigned a date in the ninth century by early eighteenth century commentators, which meant that the Hereford chapel was earlier still due to its unadorned, "Roman" character. As noted, the Hereford Chapel is now broadly understood to date from the late eleventh century, and the St Peter’s crypt was probably built in the 1120s or 1130s. 

Stukeley’s print would be as significant for antiquarian studies in the twentieth century as it was in the eighteenth. Serving as the subject of the debate over relative methodologies for the dating and reception of medieval architecture in the eighteenth century, it shifted to become the subject of intense iconographical analysis, thus echoing the changing contours of scholarly analysis of medieval architecture itself. In light of this, it is surprising that the SAL did not publish a more extensive series of drawings following Stukeley’s original sketches. It is likely that a more extended account of the chapel was intended by James Hill, FSA in his proposed History of the City of Hereford, which was never published due to the author’s death in 1727 (Stukeley and Gale 1882, 168n19). Stukeley and Hill were well acquainted and the latter presented his own survey of Hereford to the SAL in 1722, although it is not clear whether any of Stukeley’s papers were used. Such losses nonetheless highlight the importance of the Vetusta Monumenta engraving as the single published account of the chapel in the eighteenth century.

Works Cited:

Bandmann, Dieter. 1965. “Die Bischofskapelle in Hereford.” In Festschrift für Herbert von Einem, edited by G. von der Osten and G. Kauffma, 9-26. Berlin: Bonn.

Blair, John. 1987. “The Twelfth-Century Bishop’s Palace at Hereford.” Medieval Archaeology 31: 59-72.

Böker, Hans. 1998. “The Bishop’s Chapel of Hereford Cathedral and the Question of Architectural Copies in the Middle Ages.” Gesta 37, no. 1: 44-54.

Crook, John. 2000. The Architectural Setting of the Cult of Saints in the Early Christian West. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Drinkwater, Norman. 1954. “The Bishop’s Chapel of St Katherine and St Mary Magdalene.” The Archaeological Journal 111: 129-37.

------. 1955. “Hereford Cathedral: The Chapter House, and Addendum to the Bishop's Chapel of St. Katharine and St. Mary Magdalene.” The Archaeological Journal 112: 61-75.

Fernie, Eric. 2000. The Architecture of Norman England. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gem, Richard. 1986. “The Bishop’s Chapel at Hereford: the Roles of the Patron and Craftsmen.” In Art and Patronage in the English Romanesque, edited by S. Macready and F.H. Thompson, 87-96. London: Society of Antiquaries of London.

Grierson, Phillip. 1942. “Grimbald of St Bertin’s.” English Historical Review 55, no. 220: 529-61.

Hamilton, N. E. S. A., ed. 1870. Willelmi Malmesbiriensis Monachi De Gestis Pontificum Anglorum Libri Quinque. London: Longmans.

Krautheimer, Richard. 1942. “Introduction to ‘An Iconography of Medieval Architecture.” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 5: 1-33.

Piggott, Stuart. (1950) 1985. William Stukeley: An Eighteenth-Century Antiquary. London: Thames and Hudson.

Rawlinson, Richard. 1717. The History and Antiquities of the City and Cathedral Church of Hereford. London: E. Curll and R. Gosling.

Shoesmith, Ron. 2000. “The Close and Its Buildings.” In Hereford Cathedral: A History, edited by Gerald Aylmer and John Tiller, 293-310. London and Rio Grande: The Hambledon Press

Society of Antiquaries of London. 1718-. Minutes of the Society’s Proceedings.

Stukeley, William. (1724) 1776. Itinerarium Curiosum. 2nd ed. 2 vols. London: Baker and Leigh.

------. 1882. The Family Memoirs of the Rev. William Stukeley and the Antiquarian and Other Correspondence. London: Whittaker & Co.

Thurlby, Malcolm. 1995. “Hereford Cathedral: The Romanesque Fabric.” In Medieval Art, Architecture and Archaeology in Hereford: British Archaeological Association Conference Transactions, XV, edited by David Whitehead, 15-28. London: British Archaeologial Association.

------. Forthcoming. “The Bishop’s Chapel at Hereford Revisited.”

Whitehead, David. 2000. “The Architectural History of the Cathedral Since the Reformation.” In Hereford Cathedral: A History, edited by Gerald Aylmer and John Tiller, 241-85. London and Rio Grande: The Hambledon Press.

Willis, Browne. 1742. A Survey of the Cathedrals of York. 3 vols. London: T. Osborne.

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