The Hereford Cathedral Chained Library: A unique survivor

Visitors come to Hereford Cathedral each year to wonder at one of the world’s greatest Medieval works – the Mappa Mundi. But this visit offers another unique treasure – The Chained Library.

Here 229 Medieval manuscripts including the 8th century Hereford Gospel and books from later centuries are preserved, each chained for security to the library shelves as they were in the 17th century. While such libraries previously existed throughout Europe only the Hereford Chained Library has survived.

In this programme the Cathedral’s librarian Dr Rosemary Firman takes us on a tour and tells its story.

19 minutes

The Black Death: When Tens of Millions of Europe’s Population Was Killed by the Bubonic Plague

A cruel fact about life is that diseases exist. Especially infectious, life-threatening variants that once spread can kill millions of people in a short space of time, in very painful circumstances. An example is smallpox which is estimated to have killed between 300-500 million people in the last 12,000 years. Still, no cure exists, but vaccinations are very effective at stemming the development of the disease. Another is bubonic plague, a bacterium-based disease which wreaked havoc in Europe and Asia, most infamously in the year 1346. The devastation was so serious that it became known as the Black Death, with the Latin word for terrible, mistranslated to black. Although for many, both terrible and black perfectly explains the dark situation throughout the Old World at this time.

Artwork of black death. (Kupferstichkabinett / Wikimedia Commons)

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Wine-making, medieval-style

Pluck. Crush. Cork. Medieval calendars remind us that September is the month for making wine. If planting and pruning vines fall to the month of March, September is the time for cashing in on all the effort.

Labourers in the Vineyard
The depiction of the parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard in the Stavelot Bible takes us closer to the toil involved in tending the vines: Add MS 28106, f. 6r

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The Joyful Ballad of the Taverners

Diluting wine with water, also known as baptising wine, was a common medieval practice. Taverners (innkeepers) and vintners (wine merchants) were especially associated with this custom. Literary accounts sometimes depicted them as nefarious figures who mixed wine with water in order to maximize their profit. Ironically, at the same period drinking diluted wine was associated with the virtue of temperance; in contrast, the excessive drinking of wine was associated with the deadly sin of gluttony (gula).

The Joyful Ballad is essentially a catalogue of curses that the poet wished upon taverners who diluted their wine. Although its author is unknown, it has long been associated with François Villon (c. 1431–after 1463), one of the most renowned French poets of the late Middle Ages, but also a murderer, thief and vagabond.

Bacchus and his followers as examples of gluttony, in Christine de Pizan’s L’Épître Othéa (France, c. 1410–c. 1414): Harley 4431, f. 106r

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Dear Dad, Send Money – Letters from Students in the Middle Ages

B. to his venerable master A., greeting This is to inform you that I am studying at Oxford with the greatest diligence, but the matter of money stands greatly in the way of my promotion, as it is now two months since I spent the last of what you sent me. The city is expensive and makes many demands; I have to rent lodgings, buy necessaries, and provide for many other things which I cannot now specify. Wherefore I respectfully beg your paternity that by the promptings of divine pity you may assist me, so that I may be able to complete what I have well begun. For you must know that without Ceres and Bacchus Apollo grows

medieval letters-writing

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