The Cathedral Church of Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary, Rochester, Kent

The Cathedral Church of Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary, Rochester, Kent

The Museum of the Moon was still supposed to be on. Or, to be more accurate, I had not checked that it was still on, but would be a good excuse to return to Rochester for the first time in over a decade.

Last time here I took seven or so shots, I was hoping to improve on that.

But, as I was to find, the Moon moved out on Wednesday, so there was just the cathedral to look at and record, and I pretty much had the cathedral to myself.

There was a service in the chancel, so that and the Quire were out of bounds for a while, but once over I was given the nod I could go in.

How do you describe a cathedral? Especially one as grand and old as Rochester?

From the west, the cathedral doesn’t look too big, but there is a viewing place from the High Street that shows the cathedral to be a large and complicated building.

Inside the nave is huge, with the organ towering over the altar. Through the doorway into the quire and the sanctuary beyond, and all the while, above the white vaulted ceiling reached from the high walls and columns.

All around the walls are memorials to the great and good of Kent, some tombs too. The step leading from the aisles to the sanctuary are worn down by the millions of feet that have climbed them over the centuries.


The church is the cathedral of the Diocese of Rochester in the Church of England and the seat (cathedra) of the Bishop of Rochester, the second oldest bishopric in England after that of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The edifice is a Grade I listed building (number 1086423)

The Rochester diocese was founded by Justus, one of the missionaries who accompanied Augustine of Canterbury to convert the pagan southern English to Christianity in the early 7th century. As the first Bishop of Rochester, Justus was granted permission by King Æthelberht of Kent to establish a church dedicated to Andrew the Apostle (like the monastery at Rome where Augustine and Justus had set out for England) on the site of the present cathedral, which was made the seat of a bishopric. The cathedral was to be served by a college of secular priests and was endowed with land near the city called Priestfields.[3][a][b]

Under the Roman system, a bishop was required to establish a school for the training of priests.[4] To provide the upper parts for music in the services a choir school was required.[5] Together these formed the genesis of the cathedral school which today is represented by the King’s School, Rochester. The quality of chorister training was praised by Bede.

The original cathedral was 42 feet (13 m) high and 28 feet (8.5 m) wide. The apse is marked in the current cathedral on the floor and setts outside show the line of the walls. Credit for the construction of the building goes to King Æthelberht rather than St Justus. Bede describes St Paulinus’ burial as "in the sanctuary of the Blessed Apostle Andrew which Æthelberht founded likewise he built the city of Rochester."[c][7]

Æthelberht died in 617 and his successor, Eadbald of Kent, was not a Christian. Justus fled to Francia and remained there for a year before he was recalled by the king.[8]

In 644 Ithamar, the first English-born bishop, was consecrated at the cathedral.[d] Ithamar consecrated Deusdedit as the first Saxon Archbishop of Canterbury on 26 March 655.[9]

The cathedral suffered much from the ravaging of Kent by King Æthelred of Mercia in 676. So great was the damage that Putta retired from the diocese and his appointed successor, Cwichelm, gave up the see "because of its poverty".[10]

In 762, the local overlord, Sigerd, granted land to the bishop, as did his successor Egbert.[e][11] The charter is notable as it is confirmed by Offa of Mercia as overlord of the local kingdom.

Following the invasion of 1066, William the Conqueror granted the cathedral and its estates to his half-brother, Odo of Bayeux. Odo misappropriated the resources and reduced the cathedral to near-destitution. The building itself was ancient and decayed. During the episcopate of Siward (1058–1075) it was served by four or five canons "living in squalor and poverty".[12] One of the canons became vicar of Chatham and raised sufficient money to make a gift to the cathedral for the soul and burial of his

Gundulf’s church

Lanfranc, Archbishop of Canterbury, amongst others, brought Odo to account at the trial of Penenden Heath c. 1072. Following Odo’s final fall, Gundulf was appointed as the first Norman bishop of Rochester in 1077. The cathedral and its lands were restored to the bishop.

Gundulf’s first undertaking in the construction of the new cathedral seems to have been the construction of the tower which today bears his name. In about 1080 he began construction of a new cathedral to replace Justus’ church. He was a talented architect who probably played a major part in the design or the works he commissioned. The original cathedral had a presbytery of six bays with aisles of the same length. The four easternmost bays stood over an undercroft which forms part of the present crypt. To the east was a small projection, probably for the silver shrine of Paulinus which was translated there from the old cathedral.[f] The transepts were 120 feet long, but only 14 feet wide. With such narrow transepts it is thought that the eastern arches of the nave abuted the quire arch.[14] To the south another tower (of which nothing visible remains) was built. There was no crossing tower.[15] The nave was not completed at first. Apparently designed to be nine bays long, most of the south side but only five bays to the north were completed by Gundulf. The quire was required by the priory and the south wall formed part of its buildings. It has been speculated that Gundulf simply left the citizens to complete the parochial part of the building.[16] Gundulf did not stop with the fabric, he also replaced the secular chaplains with Benedictine monks, obtained several royal grants of land and proved a great benefactor to his cathedral city.

In 1078 Gudulf founded St Bartholomew’s Hospital just outside the city of Rochester. The Priory of St Andrew contributed daily and weekly provisions to the hospital which also received the offerings from the two altars of St James and of St Giles.[17]

During the episcopates of Ernulf (1115–1124) and John (I) (1125–1137) the cathedral was completed. The quire was rearranged, the nave partly rebuilt, Gundulf’s nave piers were cased and the west end built. Ernulf is also credited with building the refectory, dormitory and chapter house, only portions of which remain. Finally John translated the body of Ithamar from the old Saxon cathedral to the new Norman one, the whole being dedicated in 1130 (or possibly 1133) by the Archbishop of Canterbury, assisted by 13 bishops in the presence of Henry I, but the occasion was marred by a great fire which nearly destroyed the whole city and damaged the new cathedral. It was badly damaged by fires again in 1137 and 1179. One or other of these fires was sufficiently severe to badly damage or destroy the eastern arm and the transepts. Ernulf’s monastic buildings were also damaged.

Probably from about 1190, Gilbert de Glanville (bishop 1185–1214) commenced the rebuilding of the east end and the replacement on the monastic buildings. The north quire transept may have been sufficiently advanced to allow the burial of St William of Perth in 1201, alternatively the coffin may have lain in the north quire aisle until the transept was ready. It was then looted in 1215 by the forces of King John during siege of Rochester Castle. Edmund de Hadenham recounts that there was not a pyx left "in which the body of the Lord might rest upon the altar".[14] However, by 1227, the quire was again in use when the monks made their solemn entry into it. The cathedral was rededicated in 1240 by Richard Wendene (also known as Richard de Wendover) who had been translated from Bangor.[14][18]

The shrines of Ss Paulinus and William of Perth, along with the relics of St Ithamar, drew pilgrims to the cathedral. Their offerings were so great that both the work mentioned above and the ensuing work could be funded.

Unlike the abbeys of the period (which were led by an abbot) the monastic cathedrals were priories ruled over by a prior with further support from the bishop.[19] Rochester and Carlisle (the other impoverished see) were unusual in securing the promotion of a number of monks to be bishop. Seven bishops of Rochester were originally regular monks between 1215 and the Dissolution.[20] A consequence of the monastic attachment was a lack of patronage at the bishop’s disposal. By the early 16th century only 4% of the bishop’s patronage came from non-parochial sources.[21] The bishop was therefore chronically limited in funds to spend on the non-monastic part of the cathedral.

The next phase of the development was begun by Richard de Eastgate, the sacrist. The two eastern bays of the nave were cleared and the four large piers to support the tower were built. The north nave transept was then constructed. The work was nearly completed by Thomas de Mepeham who became sacrist in 1255. Not long after the south transept was completed and the two bays of the nave nearest the crossing rebuilt to their current form. The intention seems to have been to rebuild the whole nave, but probably lack of funds saved the late Norman work.

The cathedral was desecrated in 1264 by the troops of Simon de Montfort, during sieges of the city and castle. It is recorded that armed knights rode into the church and dragged away some refugees. Gold and silver were stolen and documents destroyed. Some of the monastic buildings were turned into stables.[22] Just over a year later De Montfort fell at the Battle of Evesham to the forces of Edward I. Later, in 1300, Edward passed through Rochester on his way to Canterbury and is recorded as having given seven shillings (35p) at the shrine of St William, and the same again the following day. During his return he again visited the cathedral and gave a further seven shillings at each of the shrines of Ss Paulinus and Ithamar.

The new century saw the completion of the new Decorated work with the original Norman architecture. The rebuilding of the nave being finally abandoned. Around 1320 the south transept was altered to accommodate the altar of the Virgin Mary.

There appears to have been a rood screen thrown between the two western piers of the crossing. A rood loft may have surmounted it.[23] Against this screen was placed the altar of St Nicholas, the parochial altar of the city. The citizens demanded the right of entrance by day or night to what was after all their altar. There were also crowds of strangers passing through the city. The friction broke out as a riot in 1327 after which the strong stone screens and doors which wall off the eastern end of the church from the nave were built.[24] The priory itself was walled off from the town at this period. An oratory was established in angulo navis ("in the corner of the nave") for the reserved sacrament; it is not clear which corner was being referred to, but Dr Palmer[25] argues that the buttress against the north-west tower pier is the most likely setting. He notes the arch filled in with rubble on the aisle side; and on nave side there is a scar line with lower quality stonework below. The buttress is about 4 feet (1.2 m) thick, enough for an oratory. Palmer notes that provision for reservation of consecrated hosts was often made to the north of the altar which would be the case here.

The central tower was at last raised by Hamo de Hythe in 1343, thus essentially completing the cathedral. Bells were placed in the central tower (see Bells section below). The chapter room doorway was constructed at around this time. The Black Death struck England in 1347–49. From then on there were probably considerably more than twenty monks in the priory.

The modern paintwork of the quire walls is modelled on artwork from the Middle Ages. Gilbert Scott found remains of painting behind the wooden stalls during his restoration work in the 1870s. The painting is therefore part original and part authentic. The alternate lions and fleurs-de-lis reflect Edward III’s victories, and assumed sovereignty over the French. In 1356 the Black Prince had defeated John II of France at Poitiers and took him prisoner. On 2 July 1360 John passed through Rochester on his way home and made an offering of 60 crowns (£15) at the Church of St Andrew.[27]

The Oratory provided for the citizens of Rochester did not settle the differences between the monks and the city. The eventual solution was the construction of St Nicholas’ Church by the north side of the cathedral. A doorway was knocked through the western end of the north aisle (since walled up) to allow processions to pass along the north aisle of the cathedral before leaving by the west door.[27][28]

In the mid-15th century the clerestory and vaulting of the north quire aisle was completed and new Perpendicular Period windows inserted into the nave aisles. Possible preparatory work for this is indicated in 1410–11 by the Bridge Wardens of Rochester who recorded a gift of lead from the Lord Prior. The lead was sold on for 41 shillings.[g][29] In 1470 the great west window at the cathedral was completed and finally, in around 1490, what is now the Lady Chapel was built.[27] Rochester Cathedral, although one of England’s smaller cathedrals, thus demonstrates all styles of Romanesque and Gothic architecture.[30]

In 1504 John Fisher was appointed Bishop of Rochester. Although Rochester was by then an impoverished see, Fisher elected to remain as bishop for the remainder of his life. He had been tutor to the young Prince Henry and on the prince’s accession as Henry VIII, Fisher remained his staunch supporter and mentor. He figured in the anti-Lutheran policies of Henry right up until the divorce issue and split from Rome in the early 1530s. Fisher remained true to Rome and for his defence of the Pope was elevated as a cardinal in May 1535. Henry was angered by these moves and, on 22 June 1535, Cardinal Fisher was beheaded on Tower Green.

Henry VIII visited Rochester on 1 January 1540 when he met Ann of Cleves for the first time and was "greatly disappointed".[31] Whether connected or not, the old Priory of St Andrew was dissolved by royal command later in the year, one of the last monasteries to be dissolved.

The west front is dominated by the central perpendicular great west window. Above the window the dripstone terminates in a small carved head at each side. The line of the nave roof is delineated by a string course above which rises the crenelated parapet. Below the window is a blind arcade interrupted by the top of the Great West Door. Some of the niches in the arcade are filled with statuary. Below the arcade the door is flanked with Norman recesses. The door itself is of Norman work with concentric patterned arches. The semicircular tympanum depicts Christ sitting in glory in the centre, with Saints Justus and Ethelbert flanking him on either side of the doorway. Supporting the saints are angels and surrounding them are the symbols of the Four Evangelists: Ss Matthew (a winged man), Mark (a lion), Luke (an ox) and John (an eagle).[52] On the lintel below are the Twelve Apostles and on the shafts supporting it King Soloman and the Queen of Sheba.[53] Within the Great West Door there is a glass porch which allows the doors themselves to be kept open throughout the day.

Either side of the nave end rises a tower which forms the junction of the front and the nave walls. The towers are decorated with blind arcading and are carried up a further two stories above the roof and surmounted with pyramidal spires. The aisle ends are Norman. Each has a large round headed arch containing a window and in the northern recess is a small door. Above each arch is plain wall surmounted by a blind arcade, string course at the roof line and plain parapet. The flanking towers are Norman in the lower part with the style being maintained in the later work. Above the plain bases there are four stories of blind arcading topped with an octagonal spire.[54]

The outside of the nave and its aisles is undistinguished, apart from the walled up north-west door which allowed access from the cathedral to the adjacent St Nicholas’ Church.[28] The north transept is reached from the High Street via Black Boy Alley, a medieval pilgrimage route. The decoration is Early English, but reworked by Gilbert Scott. Scott rebuilt the gable ends to the original high pitch from the lower one adopted at the start of the 19th century. The gable itself is set back from the main wall behind a parapet with walkway. He also restored the pilgrim entrance and opened up the blind arcade in the northern end of the west wall.[55]

To the east of the north transept is the Sextry Gate. It dates from Edward III’s reign and has wooden domestic premises above. The area beyond was originally enclosed, but is now open to the High Street through the memorial garden and gates. Beyond the Sextry Gate is the entrance to Gundulf’s Tower, used as a private back door to the cathedral.

The north quire transept and east end are all executed in Early English style, the lower windows light the crypt which is earlier. Adjoining the east end of the cathedral is the east end of the Chapter Room which is in the same style. The exact form of the east end is more modern than it appears, being largely due to the work of Scott in the 19th century. Scott raised the gable ends to the original high pitch, but for lack of funds the roofs have not been raised; writing in 1897 Palmer noted: "they still require roofs of corresponding pitch, a need both great and conspicuous".[56]

On the south side of the cathedral the nave reaches the main transept and beyond a modern porch. The aisle between the transepts is itself a buttress to the older wall behind and supported by a flying buttress. The unusual position of this wall is best explained when considering the interior, below. The southern wall of the presbytery is hidden by the chapter room, an 18th-century structure.

he western part of the nave is substantially as Gundulf designed it. According to George H. Palmer (who substantially follows St John Hope) "Rochester and Peterborough possess probably the best examples of the Norman nave in the country".[60] The main arcade is topped by a string course below a triforium. The triforium is Norman with a further string course above. The clerestory above is of perpendicular style. From the capitals pilasters rise to the first string course but appear to have been removed from the triforium stage. Originally they might have supported the roof timbers, or even been the springing of a vault.[61]

The easternmost bay of the triforium appears to be Norman, but is the work of 14th-century masons. The final bay of the nave is Decorated in style and leads to the tower piers. Of note is the north pier which possibly contains the Oratory Chapel mentioned above.[62]

The aisles are plain with flat pilasters. The eastern two bays are Decorated with springing for vaulting. Whether the vault was ever constructed is unknown, the present wooden roof extends the full length of the aisles.

The crossing is bounded to the east by the quire screen with the organ above. This is of 19th-century work and shows figures associated with the early cathedral. Above the crossing is the central tower, housing the bells and above that the spire. The ceiling of the crossing is notable for the four Green Men carved on the bosses. Visible from the ground is the outline of the trapdoor through which bells can be raised and lowered when required. The floor is stepped up to the pulpitum and gives access to the quire through the organ screen.

The north transept is from 1235 in Early English style. The Victorian insertion of windows has been mentioned above in the external description. Dominating the transept is the baptistery fresco. The fresco by Russian artist Sergei Fyodorov is displayed on the eastern wall. It is located within an arched recess. The recess may have been a former site of the altar of St Nicholas from the time of its construction in 1235 until it was moved to the screen before the pulpitum in 1322. A will suggests that "an altar of Jesu" also stood here at some point, an altar of some sort must have existed as evidenced by the piscina to the right of the recess.[64] The vaulting is unusual in being octpartite, a development of the more common sexpartite. The Pilgrim Door is now the main visitor entrance and is level for disabled access.

he original Lady Chapel was formed in the south transept by screening it off from the crossing. The altar of the Blessed Virgin Mary was housed in the eastern arch of the transept. There are traces of painting both on the east wall and under the arch. The painting delineates the location of the mediaeval north screen of the Lady Chapel. Around 1490 this chapel was extended westwards by piercing the western wall with a large arch and building the chapel’s nave against the existing south aisle of cathedral. From within the Lady Chapel the upper parts of two smaller clerestory windows may be seen above the chapel’s chancel arch. Subsequently, a screen was placed under the arch and the modern Lady Chapel formed in the 1490 extension.

The south transept is of early Decorated style. The eastern wall of it is a single wide arch at the arcade level. There are two doorways in the arch, neither of which is used, the northern one being hidden by the memorial to Dr William Franklin. The south wall starts plain but part way up is a notable monument to Richard Watts, a "coloured bust, with long gray beard".[65] According to Palmer there used to be a brass plaque to Charles Dickens below this but only the outline exists, the plaque having been moved to the east wall of the quire transept.[66] The west wall is filled by the large arch mentioned above with the screen below dividing it from the present Lady Chapel.

The Lady Chapel as it now exists is of Decorated style with three lights along southern wall and two in the west wall. The style is a light and airy counterpart to the stolid Norman work of the nave. The altar has been placed against the southern wall resulting in a chapel where the congregation wraps around the altar. The window stained glass is modern and tells the gospel story.

The first, easternmost, window has the Annunciation in the upper light: Gabriel speaking to Mary (both crowned) with the Holy Spirit as a dove descending. The lower light shows the Nativity with the Holy Family, three angels and shepherds. The next window shows St Elizabeth in the upper light surrounded by stars and the sun in splendour device. The lower light shows the Adoration of the Magi with Mary enthroned with the Infant. The final window of the south wall has St Mary Magdelene with her ointment surrounded by Tudor roses and fleurs-de-lis in the upper light with the lower light showing the Presentation in the Temple. The west wall continues with St. Margaret of Scotland in the upper light surrounded by fouled anchor and thistle roundels. The reference is to the original dedication of the cathedral as the Priory of St Andrew. The lower light shows the Crucifixion with Mary and St Peter. The final window is unusual, the upper light is divided in three and shows King Arthur with the royal arms flanked by St George on the left and St Michael on the right. The lower light shows the Ascension: two disciples to the left, three women with unguents to the right and three bare crosses top right.


, The Cathedral Church of Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary , Rochester , Kent , Church , Jelltex , Jelltecks #Cathedral #Church #Christ #Blessed #Virgin #Mary #Rochester #Kent

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