Rochester Cathedral is located close to the
River Medway, in the shadow of the town's medieval castle. The Church
of St Andrew the Apostle was the very first church here, built in
AD 604, just seven years after Christianity was first introduced into Kent.
It was about the same time as Bishop Milletus consecrated the original St
Paul's Church in London (which was controlled by Essex). St Andrew's was
built near to the former fortified Roman crossing of the Medway.
St Andrew's was a college for a small number of
secular canons under Justus, bishop of Rochester in AD 604, but very
little is known about its history. Its influence in Kent seems to have
been limited. It remained relatively poor, despite its considerable
landed estates. In the ninth and tenth centuries it suffered at the
hands of the Danes, and apparently by 1075, when it was handed over
to Bishop Odo of Bayeux by William the Conquer, it seems to have been
In 1083, Archbishop Lanfranc visited Rochester
and instituted twenty-two Benedictine monks, making full provision
for them. Together with Gundulf, bishop of Rochester, he began the
rebuilding the church and monastery buildings, creating a new church
building to the east of the original so as not to disturb services.
The nave (shown here) is the closest we can get to that rebuild.
There was an upsurge in donations when a Scottish pilgrim was
murdered in the town.
The Reformation came in 1539, and a new charter
of 20 June 1541 set up a cathedral church which was to be run by a
dean and six canons regular of the newly established Church of
England. Although it was one of the smaller Norman cathedrals,
Rochester remained an important centre for worship, as well as being
the mother church for its diocese which even today stretches west to
Bromley (now in London) and south to the villages around Tonbridge.
Many post-Reformation dedications were made, such
as the mosaic below this window: 'To the glory of God and in memory
of the officers, NCOs and men of the Royal Engineers. The late Bengal
Engineers and the Bengal Madras and Bombay Sappers and Miners who died
for Queen and country, some in Afghanistan during the campaigns of
1838-42 and of 1878-80, one in the Waziri Expedition of 1881 and for
others in South Africa in... the [campaigns] of 1878-81.
The earliest parts of the organ which overlooks
the north transept date back to Samuel Green's 1791 original. Enlarged
in 1835, further changes were made in 1865 and 1870, and five years
later the organ was moved into the current case which was designed by
Gilbert Scott. After nearly ten years of persuasion, a new organ was
built in 1905 and fifty years later a very colourful upgrade was made
which included electrifying some functions, but this was rebuilt in
Beneath the quire transept is the crypt, with two
bays surviving from the original Norman construction. Shown here are
the plain-arched western bays - the surviving part of Gundulf's work,
unadorned by later rebuilds, lying underneath his original presbytery.
To the east (to the right), the Early English crypt (1180-1260) stretches
away to a separate chapel which is dedicated to Ithamar, the Saxon bishop.
Many fragments of medieval ceiling paintings also survive.
Behind the transept is the quire itself. The solid
walls to north and south (right and left here) were a distinctive
feature of Gundulf's quire. They are still there underneath the Early
English arches and plaster, added when the quire was rebuilt after the
second big fire in 1179. The quire stalls contain remnants of those
put in around 1227, now the oldest surviving stalls in Britain. The
striking pattern on the walls of the 1350s was reapplied in the
The south porch leads to the Cloister Garth. Here,
Gundulf established the monastic community. Bishop Ernulf (1114-1124)
erected further buildings, including a chapter house, and it is this
which lies in ruins today, only the arches surviving. The chapter house
suffered badly in the first big fire of 1137 when the monks were forced
to live elsewhere for a time. At the Dissolution, Henry VIII planned a
royal palace in the monastic buildings, but this was soon abandoned.
The squat Norman nave contrasts dramatically with
the tall, narrow Gothic arches of the crossing. In 1889, maintenance
work uncovered the foundations of the original Saxon cathedral under
the west end. They were about 1.5m (five feet) deep and the remainder
of the walls were 70cms (two feet four inches) thick. The walls were
made of stone and Roman brick and ended in a rounded apse. This building
was swept away by changes brought about by the Norman Conquest.
One photo on this page kindly contributed by
Sam Weller via the 'History Files: Churches of the British
Isles' Flickr group, and two originally published on Lynne's
'Echoes of the Past' blog and reproduced here with permission.