Christopher William Herbert was bishop of Saint Albans from 1995 to 2009.
Herbert was born in Lydney, in the Forest of Dean, in 1944. His father Walter started his working life as a foundryman and moulder in a local iron works, but went on to help run the family road haulage business. Christopher won a scholarship to Monmouth School for Boys, before reading Biblical studies and Philosophy at St David’s College, Lampeter. At Lampeter he was asked by one group of people to chair the Junior Common Room, and by another group to lead the Student Christian Movement. He realized then that his calling was to religion rather than politics. After graduating in 1965, Herbert went to Wells Theological College to train for the ministry. He was also awarded a Postgraduate Certificate of Education from the University of Bristol.
Herbert was ordained in 1967; his first clerical post was as assistant curate at St Paul’s, Tupsley, Hereford. The next year he married Jan Turner; (he and Jan now have two sons and four grandchildren). Also, while at Tupsley, Herbert taught religious education and social studies at the Bishop of Hereford’s Bluecoat School. He became RE Adviser for the Diocese of Hereford in 1971 and Diocesan Director of Education in 1976. He became a prebendary of Hereford Cathedral in 1977.
In 1981 Herbert went back to the parish ministry, as vicar of St Thomas on the Bourne, Farnham, Surrey. In 1984 he was also appointed Director of Post-Ordination Training for the Diocese of Guildford and made a Canon of Guildford Cathedral. After St Thomas, his next post was as Archdeacon of Dorking from 1990 to 1995.
Herbert was appointed Bishop of St Albans in 1995. Mary Ann Sieghart described him as ‘if anything, a gentle Anglo-Catholic,’ before going on to say ‘’he does not really belong to any party in the Church. He has a light touch, a good sense of humour and a talent for getting on with people. Perhaps this is why he always seems to be given the most contentious debates to chair at General Synod.’
During his time at St Albans, Herbert served as Chairman of the Hospital Chaplaincies Council, Chairman of General Synod, National Chairman of the Council of Christians and Jews, and Chairman of the East of England Churches Network. He entered the House of Lords in 1999. Showing particular expertise in the area of medical ethics, he was a member of the House of Lords Select Committee that scrutinised proposals relating to changing the law on euthanasia and assisted suicide. He was also part of the House of Lords pre-legislative Scrutiny Committee that worked on human fertilisation and embryology. (In retirement Herbert has become visiting professor of Christian ethics at the University of Surrey.)
While at St Albans, Herbert also completed an MPhil in 2002 and then a PhD in 2008, both awarded by the University of Leicester. His MPhil was entitled Shaping the resurrection in late medieval religion and theology: with special reference to the work of Hans Memling. His PhD examined the origins of the Easter Sepulchre in pre-Reformation English churches.
Herbert was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters by the University of Hertfordshire in 2003 and an Honorary Doctorate of Arts by the University of Bedfordshire in 2008, both for services to the community. Also, in 2008, he was made an Honorary Citizen of St Albans’ twin city, Fano, province of Pesaro and Urbino, Italy. This was in recognition of his role in building inter-church and community relationships between the two cities.
Herbert left St Albans in 2009, to take up what seems to have been an exceedingly active retirement. He became a voluntary Non-Executive Director of the Abbeyfield Society, a charity providing sheltered housing and care homes for elderly people. He serves as honorary assistant bishop in the dioceses of Guildford, Salisbury and Winchester and is also a voluntary Non-Executive Director of the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability, Putney.
Herbert is a prolific author, writing a wide range of books for both adults and children. Seeing & believing: praying with paintings of the life, death and resurrection of Christ is based on talks he gave round his diocese. He realized the power of images to capture the imagination and convey the Christian faith far more effectively than any sermon. In Foreshadowing the Reformation: art and religion in the fifteenth-century Burgundian Netherlands (Routledge, 2017), he sought to correct the contemporary tendency to underplay the religious context of late Medieval art. For Herbert, ‘paintings are the history of ideas in visual form’; in 15th century northern Europe, those ideas were religious as well as political and economic. He examined a selection of paintings, mixing well-known favourites such as Van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece, with lesser known works, including Memling’s Last Judgement, now in Gdansk.
Many of Herbert’s books concern prayer and spirituality and he has written several prayer books, including Pocket prayers for children and Pocket prayers for commuters. The prayer garden is a compendium of prayers for every day of a child’s life, ranging over a wide variety of themes. During the Covid lockdowns he wrote a novel, The calling of Clemo Trelawney, (published Gatekeeper Press, 2021). Set in the reign of Henry VIII, it is centred on the life of a Monmouth-born young man, who has been much influenced by the Cistercians at Tintern. In this 'coming-of-age' novel Herbert explores the religious turmoil of England in the early 16th century as experienced by the 'man-in-the street'.
Herbert lectures regularly on Christian art, particularly the art of the Middle Ages. He has been a guest speaker at the National Gallery, the Courtauld Institute, King’s College London, the University of Leicester, Westminster Abbey and the Arts Society, as well as church groups. He also gives expert guided tours round the major London art galleries. Neil MacGregor, the former director of the National Gallery, has said of him ‘He talks wonderfully of paintings. He really understands the fact that there are truths that can be explored better visually than in words.’
Herbert, C. (2020). Three abbeys: the website of The Rt. Revd Dr Christopher Herbert. Retrieved June 4, 2020, from http://www.threeabbeys.org.uk/
Herbert, Rt Rev. Christopher William, (born 7 Jan. 1944), Bishop of St Albans, 1995–2009; an Honorary Assistant Bishop: Diocese of Guildford, since 2009; Diocese of Winchester, since 2010; Diocese of Chichester, 2010–14; Diocese of Salisbury, and Archbishop’s Delegate, 2011. Who's who & Who was who. Retrieved 4 Jun. 2020, from https://www.ukwhoswho.com/view/10.1093/ww/9780199540884.001.0001/ww-9780199540884-e-33656
Howes, G. (2017). Christopher Herbert, Foreshadowing the Reformation: art and religion in the fifteenth-century Burgundian Netherlands. Theology. 120(3),221-222. Retrieved from: https://journals-sagepub-com.ezproxy.uwtsd.ac.uk/doi/full/10.1177/0040571X16684444f.
Sieghart, M.A. (2002, May 28). Everybody’s favourite long shot. The Times. Retrieved from https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/IF0501488167/TTDA?u=nlw_ttda&sid=TTDA&xid=cf202091.