The Golden Legend

The Golden Legend by Jacobus Voragine 

Introduced by Danielle Webster, student at the Royal National College for the Blind, Hereford

On Tuesday afternoon, myself and Ellie had the wonderful opportunity to visit Hereford Cathedral to find out about medieval books, and how the Chained Library came to be.  When we first walked in it was noticeable how big the building was. I have a cathedral locally, but the one in Hereford by far is bigger and a lot more majestic.

We were lead through the building, and eventually came to the library part. When we arrived, we were met and shown a huge medieval map, the Mappa Mundi which portrayed certain images on the world map, like a pair of skis on the section on the map for Norway, and mermaids in the Mediterranean. As my sight was not good enough to see this, it’s quite hard to explain, so Ellie is doing a separate page about this.

We were then shown some really interesting items that were used in medieval times. We were told by our guide [Rosemary Firmin, Librarian at Hereford Cathedral] that vellum, cow skin, was used in the creation of books, in the binding of books. The paper was made of parchment back then. We were also allowed to hold a goose feather quill which is how people wrote in medieval times.

We then proceeded in to the next room where the Chained Library is held. I felt so privileged to touch such amazing treasures, running my finger down old and well used spines, parchment paper, and the intricate chains holding them together and keeping them safe.  We were told that the library would have been here for centuries, since the Middle Ages. The very oldest book was written in the 11th century, and is still here.

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This is the first page of William Caxton’s translation into English, printed by him in at Westminster 1483 or 1484. Thanks to Hereford Cathedral for the photograph.

One of the most important books in the collection is The Golden Legend by Jacobus Voragine, in which the library has two versions. The first one is parchment, heavy, bound with vellum (calf skin), and has been written with a quill. The second is a little later, at the time of early printing, and printed by William Caxton, the first printer. This book was heavier, surprisingly. The cover was thicker and had a textural pattern to feel. Wooden plaques with imagery were used to stamp the picture on to the cover. We were able to feel both books, in a separate room arranged for the occasion. The books felt so so valuable, priceless, perfect books. It was really amazing.

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This is the first page of the medieval manuscript book (in Latin) containing The Golden Legend, dating from the early 14th century. Thanks to Hereford Cathedral for the photograph. 

I also found out that the library in Hereford is the only fully existing library that is chained. It was chained so that all the books were kept safe and were not stolen. Most of the books were in Latin. However, many of them are translated to English and are still read today.

I thought the experience was wonderful, and I will always remember the weight of a precious medieval book in my hands.


The Mappa Mundi – a reflection of a trip to Hereford Cathedral by Ellie Wait

On Tuesday Danielle and I took a trip to Hereford Cathedral to visit the Chained Library. I was enthralled at the idea of seeing such precious books (which Danielle will wrote about above) but my imagination was captured by an unexpected exhibition.

Previous to my visit, I had never heard of a Mappa Mundi so I was brimming with questions as withdrew my magnifier and closely examined the map which was hanging on a wall behind a sheet of glass.


The first thing that struck me was the size. It was 64” by 52” and made entirely of vellum (calf skin) which (as shown in the picture) tapers upwards to a rounded apex. The map itself is located centrally in a circle and depicts the medieval geographic interpretation of the world which was strongly based on a Christian framework as Jerusalem is in the centre.

However, upon quizzing the tour guide who was clearly extremely knowledgeable (and tolerant of my ignorance) I learnt that the map was not created for orientation purposes. Despite labelling different continents, countries, cities and rivers (such as The River Nile) the intricate illustrations of biblical events and mythical creatures suggest that the Mappa Mundi was not created to be geographically accurate but rather as an interpretation of how the fourteenth century creators perceived the earth.

As ancient Greek mythology has always been a source of interest for me, there were some aspects of the map that caught my attention my attention more than others. One example of this is the drawing of the Labyrinth which is where the vicious Minotaur is said to have dwelt. Other creatures such as unicorns and mermaids which were documented in ancient Greek studies of nature are also visible.

Despite the bumpy texture of the map which once would have lain flat, it was in exceptional condition and for that, I am grateful. The fact that we can still access this unique piece of history is something to celebrate.



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