September 14 – A visit to Rochester Castle and Rochester Cathedral

A walk around High Wycombe

Hello from 1066 – A Medieval Mosaic

Before heading off this morning we walked down the hill into High Wycombe to visit All Saints church. It was a lovely big church with a wonderful gilded wooden sanctuary reredos which was erected in 1922 as a WWI memorial. It also had a marvellous font made out of Caen stone and designed by George Edmund Street. It had fantastic characters carved around the octagonal font. There were four lovely wooden statues of Wulfstan c.1008-1095, St Catherine of Alexandria c.4th century, St Hugh, Bishop of Lincoln 1186 – 1200 and St Frideswide c. 680-735. The church was full of amazing wall monuments and tombs including the Shelburne tomb 1754 to Henry Petty, Earl of Shelburne made by Peter Scheemakers and a wall monument to Lady Sophia Cartaret, wife of William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne. There were also some fantastic stained glass windows including one by Heaton, Butler and Bayne and one commemorating the end of the Boer War and the restoration of peace in South Africa in 1902.

The best window was the Frances Dove window made in 1933 which commemorates the achievements of women through the ages. The left-hand panel presents Emily Bronte, Margaret Godolphin, Emily Davies, St Bridget, St Winifred, Elizabeth Fry and Florence Nightingale. The central panel depicts St Margaret, Mary Roper and Margaret Beaufort. The right panel depicts Queen Victoria, Grace Darling, Christina Rossetti, St Hilda, St Frideswide, Mary Slessor and Alice Marval.

Outside the church, it was the market day under and around the 18th-century Grade I listed Guild Hall. The walking mall was decorated with amazing flower baskets as are most other villages and towns all over England. They are wonderful and add a riot of colour to the towns. We always wonder how they keep so well watered especially in a summer like the one we have just had. In Deal, we met a guy with a truck and water tank going around watering the hanging basket. He covered all of the Deal, Walmer and Dover area and works 3 – 4 hours a day every day. Usually, each basket requires watering every second or third day but this year it was every day for quite a while. We had thought they must have an automatic watering system.

Today we were driving from High Wycombe to Deal which is only about one and a half hours by motorway so we thought we would go to Rochester to visit the Castle and the Cathedral as it is somewhere we have not been. Getting into Rochester was not at all difficult and we were soon driving past the castle. When we got to the bottom of the hill we realised that there was heaps of parking here beside the river Medway. We parked and got 4 hours parking for only £2.50. It is the easiest city we have ever parked in. We walked up the hill to Rochester Castle which was an English Heritage so after getting our tickets we went into the keep. It must have been four or five stories high and there were boards all around explaining all about the castle. When we reached the top of the battlements we had excellent views in all four directions, especially over the river Medway.

The castle is a 12th-century keep or stone tower and is one of the best preserved in England or France. It was a strategically important castle because of its position and the first castle was built after the Norman Conquest. It was given to Bishop Odo, probably by his half-brother William the Conqueror. After his death in 1087 William’s lands were divided, Normandy went to his eldest son, Robert Curthose, and his second surviving son, William Rufus, received England. During the rebellion of 1088 over the succession to the English throne, Odo supported Robert Curthose against William Rufus. It was during this conflict that the castle first saw military action, the city and castle were besieged after Odo made Rochester a headquarters for the rebellion. After the garrison capitulated, this first castle was abandoned. Between 1087 and 1089, Rufus asked Gundulf, Bishop of Rochester, to build a new stone castle at Rochester. He established the current castle. Though much altered through the centuries, some parts of Gundulf’s work survive.

The Rochester Cathedral is right beside the castle and has a wonderful west front with Bishop Gundulf of Rochester, 1077 -1108 on one side of the doorway and John I, Bishop of Rochester 1125-1137 on the other side of the ornate doorway. It was built in the Norman style of architecture between 1079 – 1238. The Norman arch doorway is highly decorated in the best Norman style.

Rochester Cathedral is England’s second oldest, having been founded in AD604 by Bishop Justus. The present building dates back to the work of the French monk, Gundulf, in 1080. The Saxon cathedral was built on land donated by King Ethelbert. The Saxon historian Bede tells us that Justus, first Bishop of Rochester, was consecrated here by St Augustine in 604 AD. The Benedictine Priory of St Andrew was established by Gundulf, the first Norman Bishop in 1082 and remained until the dissolution of the monastery in 1540. The Norman Cathedral was consecrated on Ascension Day in 1180 when Henry I attended the ceremony.

The Cathedral became a major place of pilgrimage in the 13th century, following the death of William of Perth, a Scottish baker who was murdered nearby in 1201. His body was brought to the Cathedral and at his shrine, of which no trace remains, miracles were reported. William of Perth was murdered nearby. Pilgrims visiting his shrine brought in money to help the monks re-build the cathedral. Modern pilgrims who journey to the Cathedral still climb the Pilgrim Steps, now worn by the many thousands of medieval pilgrims visiting the shrine, often lighting candles at the William of Perth prayer-station in front of the oratory. Visitors who journey to the Cathedral today are direct descendants of those early pilgrims.

In 1215 the cathedral was plundered when King John held it against the rebel barons. It was later desecrated by Simon de Montfort’s troops when they captured the city. In 1277 Walter de Merton, Bishop of Rochester (1274–1277) and founder of Merton College, Oxford, is buried in the Cathedral. in 1642 the Cathedral was further damaged by Cromwell’s soldiers but there were many periods of repair and extension of the cathedral over the years until in 1872 Sir George Gilbert Scott carried our major restoration work. 2004 marked the 1400th anniversary of the cathedral and the diocese of Rochester. To celebrate this, the first real fresco to be created in an English Cathedral for 800 years was dedicated on St John the Baptist’s Day 2004. The fresco is on the theme of baptism. Its creation is the first step towards creating a baptistery in the north nave transept. The fresco was painted by Sergei Fyodorov, the Russian iconographer, and the richness and size of this narrative painting draws visitors from near and far.

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 Cathedral is blessed with some fine examples of later Gothic styles as well as the magnificent 14th century Chapter Library door.

One of the highlights of the cathedral is that the library is open to the public. Rochester Cathedral has held a library since the establishment of the Benedictine Priory in 1082. There we learned about Rochester’s Mystery Book – Textus Roffensis. Textus Roffensis is a handwritten set of documents known as a Codex. It is really two books bound together sometime in the 14th century. The first part is a collection of law codes and Charters that affected how society behaved and was judged. Textus Toffensis means Book of Rochester and its name suggests that it was an extremely precious book to the monks. Textus means more than just book. It means the volume had high status. It would have had a coloured, bejewelled front cover and would have been placed near the high altar inside the Cathedral. We don’t know who wrote Textus Roffensis but we know he was a monk at Rochester and experts think that it was written by one person with 2 or 3 other people making later additions. The script is called Rochester Prickly which is unique to documents from Rochester Priory. It was written on site, probably in the scriptorium on the south side of the cloisters (now the Garth Garden). Textus Roffensis is written in two languages. The first is Old English (Anglo Saxon) and the other is Latin. Old English was the language of the English people before William the Conqueror invaded. Latin was always the language of the Church, law and educated people, so many Charters and documents were written in Latin.

As you can see from the photographs the cathedral is wonderful with decoration around the nave arcading, the fabulous 15th-century chapter house and library doorway, the triple sedilia and the font. The font was made by Thomas Earp in 1893 and is a circular stone bowl on clustered shafts with figures under arcade with larger baptismal scenes at cardinal points. There are a great number and variety of wall monuments including those to William Streaton, Mayor of Rochester; John Henniker, 1st Baron Henniker; Dame Anne Henniker, daughter of Sir John Major, 1st Baronet ; John Warner, Bishop of Rochester; Sir Richard Head, 1st Baronet; Richard Watts and Archdeacon Lee Warner. There were also at least three tombs to John Lowe, Bishop of Rochester 1444-1468; John de Sheppey, Treasurer of England and Bishop of Rochester, d.1360; and Samuel Reynolds Hole, Dean of Rochester, d.1904.

When we reached the cathedra we were reminded of a funny story which we had been told at St Albans Cathedral. Bishop Thomas Legh Claughton was the Bishop of Rochester (1867-1877) and he found his cathedra was too uncomfortable so he gifted it to St Albans Cathedral. He later became the first Bishop of St Albans in 1877 and he was again required to sit in the uncomfortable cathedra. While we held our Medieval Mosaic exhibition in the North Transept of St Albans Cathedral, Bishop Thomas Legh Claughton’s memorial tomb was right behind us and he was buried in the graveyard just outside the door.

Behind the nave altar is the stone pulpitum screen which depicts St Andrew, St Ethelbert, St Justus, St Paulinus, Gundulf, William of Hoo, Walter de Merton and John Fisher. There is so much to see in the cathedral, stonework, woodwork, tapestries, embroideries, books, it was a truly inspiring visit.

We had lunch in a Pancake parlour just beside the cathedral and then walked up the High St to get a geocache. We couldn’t believe we found this cache so easily. We walked up to the coordinates, realised there was no hint. M said “that is where I would put it” I casually reached out and put my hand right on it, just like that. I signed the log and replaced it just as casually and no one noticed.

Next, we collected the numbers for St Nicholas church micro. We had no idea whether what we were going was correct but we worked out some possible coordinates while we were having pancakes for lunch. I put the coordinates into my GPS in case we passed it on our way back to where we had parked the car. We did and we knew just where to look. We couldn’t see it at first and then Mike spotted it. He casually reached in and there it was. We signed the log and replaced the cache as we found it. Nice find and another Church Micro to add to our list.

We worked out the coordinates for the cathedral cache and then double checked them as they seemed pretty far away. After we returned to the car we drove to the spot that we had worked out. There was nowhere to park except in a high rise apartment private parking so Mike had to stay with the car. I looked for the cache in the wrong place initially then remembered the hint and there it was. Not too much traffic, so I retrieved it quickly and I could only just reach. Then I couldn’t get the paper out of the container. I finally got it out of the container, signed the log and replaced it quickly. I returned to the car with a grin on my face and gave a favourite point for a great visit to the cathedral.

We then drove off to Deal and arrived before the evening traffic started. Jill and Boris were waiting for us to arrive and greeted us enthusiastically. Mike and I walked down to the Deal pier where we tried to find the pier geocache without any luck then we purchased some fish and chips and sat outside in the warm night air to eat it.