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Rochester Cathedral

History

Blessed Sacrament windowRochester Cathedral is England’s second oldest, having been founded in 604 AD by Bishop Justus, and originally dedicated to St. Andrew.

The Saxon cathedral was built on land donated by King Ethelbert, King of Kent at that time. The Saxon historian Bede tells us that Justus, first Bishop of Rochester, was consecrated here by St Augustine.

The present building dates back to the work of the French monk and first Norman Bishop of Rochester, Gundulf, started in about 1080. The Benedictine Priory of St Andrew was also established by Gundulf and remained until the dissolution of the monastery in 1540.

The glorious Norman architecture of the nave, parts of the crypt, as well as one of the finest Romanesque facades in England, make this an inspirational place to visit. The Norman cathedral was consecrated in 1130 during a ceremony attended by Henry 1st and thirteen bishops.

Following two serious fires in the 12th century work began in 1180, re-building in the Gothic style, beginning with the Quire.

In 1201 pilgrim William of Perth, en-route to Canterbury and the Holy Land, was murdered nearby. Healing miracles were said to occur at his burial place in the cathedral and pilgrims visiting his shrine brought in money which helped the monks re-build the cathedral.

The cathedral was plundered when King John besieged the castle held by the rebel barons in 1215 and it was later desecrated by Simon de Montfort’s troops in 1264 when they captured the city. In the mid-14th century Bishop Hamo de Hythe vaulted the transepts, raised the central tower and spire, and re-decorated the Quire. The magnificent 14th century Chapter Library door shows, in the surrounding decoration, his soul rising to heaven at the top of the door.

The last part of the cathedral to be built was the Lady Chapel, started in 1490 at the beginning of the Tudor period. In 1540 Henry 8th closed the Benedictine monastery, using the monastic buildings as a palace for a short while. A new foundation of a Dean and six Canons was established in 1542 and the cathedral was re-dedicated to Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary.

During the Reformation two bishops of Rochester, John Fisher (Roman Catholic) and Nicholas Ridley (Anglican), were martyred for their respective beliefs. The cathedral suffered badly during the Civil War and records of 1642 report that the body of the church was used as a carpenter’s shop and yard. The 19th century saw two important periods of restoration, under L.N. Cottingham (1825 – 1840) and Sir George Gilbert Scott from 1871 - 1877. The spire was replaced in 1904, and for the rest of the 20th century the cathedral remained more-or-less untouched.

Today a £10m fund-raising campaign seeks to put the cathedral on a secure footing in terms of the building itself, the provision of the liturgy and music and the warm welcome, in Benedictine tradition, for pilgrims, tourists and students.

 

Architecture

None of Saxon church remains, but evidence of position is shown by markings inside and outside today’s cathedral
• Well-preserved Norman nave
• Crypt in Norman and early English style
• Oldest Norman door in England (hidden from view but may be viewed by
appointment)
• 13th century wall painting of Wheel of Fortune (in Quire)
• Oldest tiled flooring in situ in the land
• Early English / Gothic quire
• Tudor Lady Chapel
• First true fresco for 800 years in an English completed in 2004

Local Interest

Rochester Castle with its splendid Norman Keep
The Guildhall Museum
Restoration House
Six Poor Travellers House Museum
The Chatham Historic Dockyard