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Hereford Cathedral’s Charnel-house History

Our amazing city of Hereford has a fantastic history, some of which is readily apparent but other parts are still yet to be discovered. Did you know that in 2015 the mysterious remains of a boy was found within the grounds of Hereford City during an archaeological dig?

These remains were particularly interesting because no previous finds of this sort had dated back so far despite there being more than two thousand unearthed burials at the site. The boy’s skeleton was thought to date to 900 AD, a whole 200 years earlier than any other previous unearthed remains. And as if that wasn’t enough, archaeologists surmised that a Saxon palace may once have existed on the site of the cathedral.

It was well known that the land surrounding the cathedral had been used as a burial ground over the centuries. The original cathedral was burnt down and raided in 1055 when the rebel Welsh army destroyed Athelstan’s cathedral. Ethelbert’s shrine and many other treasures were sadly lost, however an 8th-century illuminated Gospel Book, the Hereford Gospels survived this disaster and is now one of the most precious spiritual treasures of the diocese.

You can imagine the excitement when the remains of a medieval knight were found during the dig too. Apparently investigation of the skeleton revealed injuries that could only be attributed to jousting battles, such as fractured ribs and shoulder injuries. What a brutal pastime it must have been.

Did you know that under the cathedral church is the greatest charnel-house, this happens to be a vault in which corpses or bones are piled. It is said that in 1650 cunning ale wives used to take these bones and crush them into a fine powder which they then used to mix into their Hereford ales. Apparently it rendered them more intoxicating. We’re kind of hoping that there isn’t any truth to this tale but we have a feeling that there may well be!

So as you wander the hallowed corridors of Hereford Cathedral spare a thought for those who walked those pathways before you, we wonder what the next discovery may bring.

These stories are curated from many sources and retold in our fun ESL style, in the true spirit of Folklore.

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