Battlefield History Tours

Battlefield History Tours
Incorporating History and Heritage tours

Cathedrals and Abbeys of England on 17 September 2019


After a leisurely breakfast we started the run north westwards towards London. But we did have a stop on the way, we called into Rochester Cathedral and what a beautiful old cathedral it is.

After Canterbury, Rochester is the oldest diocese in England. Augustine sent one of his Monks there to be Bishop in 604. The mortal remains of Paulinus the great missionary to Northumbria are still in this cathedral. Nothing is visible of the Saxon cathedral and it is the church begun by the Norman Bishop, Gundulf in 1077 of which the earliest remains are visible. Gundulf founded a Benedictine community and set to work on a new Romanesque church. Parts of his cathedral are still visible in the nave arcading.

At the Reformation, Rochester produced 2 Martyrs, one from either side of the divide. Bishop John Fisher for the Catholic cause was beheaded by King Henry VIII. Bishop Nicholas Ridley was burned at the stake during the reign of Mary Tudor and became a Protestant Martyr. Ridley is commemorated by a figure in the 19th Century quire screen. The new baptistry fresco by Sergei Fyodorov in 2004 is the first to be painted in an English cathedral in 800 years.

But there is more to the cathedral than the history. It was also some fortunate turns early that enabled Augustine to carry out the instructions from his Pope. Ethelburg was the King of Kent and was a Pagan, when he married it was to Berthas, a Christian who convinced the King to adopt Christianity and because he was baptised by Augustine, he gave land at Rochester for the building of a church.

This then was the start of conversion to Christianity in Kent and north in Northumbria as their daughter, Ethelburh, in 625, married Edwin or Northumbria as his second wife. A condition of their marriage was Edwin's conversion to Christianity and the acceptance of Paulinus's mission, given to him bt Augustine, to convert the Northumbrians. From there Christianity spread throughout England.

The cathedral is built half in the Romanesque style and half in the Gothic style, the only cathedral in England built that way. There was some damage at the Reformation but Henry's Commissioners came to Rochester late after attending to many other monasteries and the Abbott negotiated a deal that saved the cathedral from major damage as he did not openly oppose Henry's people and such was able to arrange a payout for the Monks and the Brothers, type of a one off super fund, to allow them to move on to another life. The Abbott in fact was able to have himself installed as the first Bishop of the new Anglican Cathedral.

There were bits and pieces of "graffiti" scratched inti the pillars and walls, but, they have added to the story of the cathedral because many tell their own story. Around the cathedral, as there are in many of the other cathedrals that we visited, Stone Mason marks. The stone masons had their individual marks that they put into the stone at various times when they completed sections of what ever they were working on, little birds, crosses, pigs, an axe and many more designs. They all had their own design. There are other scratching's of dates of activities of the time. These have been diagnosed by archaeologists over the years and much information has been gathered. A special scratching on walls near the font are circles. These circles were put there by the parents of the baby who had been christened as a means of warding of spirits. It was thought that a circle kept spirits at bey.

Our visit concluded with a visit to the adjoining Norman Castle before we headed on our way to London. Tomorrow Westminster Abbey and St Paul's Cathedral.

Graham Fleeton


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