Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. (1 Timothy 4:13)
A couple of weeks ago we looked at Sir John Oldcastle, the Lollard from this fair county. This week I want to look at someone even more closely connected to this area: one Nicholas Hereford, third son of John de Hereford of Sufton Court in Mordiford.
We don’t know precisely when he was born, but he was ordained in 1370 after the death of his wife, and soon became a Fellow of Queen’s College in Oxford. There he became a friend of Wycliffe, the great rebellious translator of the Bible into English, whose words lie behind so much of the King James Version. Hereford rejected the doctrine of Transubstantiation - the teaching that the bread and wine become the literal body and blood of Christ at communion - and even travelled to Rome to try and convince the Pope of his views. He preached against friars and monks, and was involved in the translation of much of the Old Testament into English (or at least into a rather awkward English, with a west midland dialect). This work was interrupted by that trip to Rome to defend himself. However, he was soon imprisoned and excommunicated for his preaching.
By 1394, however, it seems the flame of this forerunner of Protestantism had flickered out. Nicholas Hereford had renounced his views and was rewarded by re-gaining his position of Chancellor of Hereford Cathedral to which was added the role of Treasurer. Why did this happen? Some speculate that it was because he’d inherited the Sufton Estate and wanted to protect it against being seized by the crown. Whatever the reason, he was back in royal favour and the monarch granted him “a pipe of wine yearly from the king’s prise at Bristol”, and receipt from 1403 still exists. In 1417 he gave it all up, and entered a monastery in Coventry, aged about 80. About three years later, he died.
Such was the life of this fourteenth century Mordiford boy. Such is the history of Lollardy in this country, a movement which sought to translate the Bible in to English and place it into the hands of the ordinary residents. Perhaps as you pass the church in Mordiford, a church in which he would have prayed, you might give thanks for the fact you have a Bible in English. There is no more precious gift.