Being the second oldest cathedral foundation in England, Rochester Cathedrals history goes back to AD604 when Augustine sent Bishop Justus to establish the house founded by King Ethelbert of Kent. Following several invasions by the Danes, the church was in a state of devastation by the time Bishop Gundulf was consecrated in 1077 but immediately he began a major building operation, and introduced a community of Benedictine monks in 1080.
The church suffered misfortune again in the mid 12th century with two serious fires, resulting in a further rebuilding programme. Since that time there has been continuous remodelling, refurbishments and restorations, mainly due to other historical events when the cathedral sustained damage. As a consequence of its very chequered history, Rochester Cathedral displays the varied building styles of each period, from the functional austerity of Gundulf's original structure, through the Romanesque, Gothic and Early English architectural periods, and continuing with renovation and restoration well into the 20th century following war damage.
The sturdy, squat Norman nave contrasts dramatically with the tall, narrow Gothic arches of the crossing. A superbly carved stone archway of the Decorated period (c1345), now enhanced with a solid oak door, leads to the chapter room and is a magnificent feat of craftsmanship. Quite unusually, the Lady Chapel is sited between the nave and the south transept as monastic outbuildings occupied the traditional location at the eastern end of the church when the chapel was added in the late 15th century. Beneath the quire transept is a beautifully preserved and vaulted crypt, with two bays surviving from the original Norman construction. There are also many fragments of medieval ceiling paintings to be found in this lower level sanctuary.
Though one of the smaller Norman cathedrals, Rochester was an important centre for pilgrimage during the 13th century, and even today attracts many visitors who are keen to learn more about its fascinating history. From a photographic perspective, a wonderful view of Rochester Cathedral can be seen from the top of Rochester Castle, immediately opposite. We have visited both the Rochester Cathedral and Castle on many occasions, and still manage to uncover more information, or something interesting that we had previously overlooked. Earlier this year, we ventured for the first time into the cloister garth, discovering a substantial section of the ruined Chapter House. On the south side, the entrance arch to the monk's refectory survives and, looking behind it, the 13th century lavatorium and towel recess is still visible.