Rochester Cathedral
Rochester Cathedral, or the Cathedral Church of Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary, is a Norman church in Rochester, Kent. The bishopric is second oldest in England: only Canterbury is older.

The Rochester diocese was founded by Justus, one of the missionaries who accompanied Saint Augustine of Canterbury to convert the pagan English to Christianity in the early 7th century. As the first bishop of Rochester, Justus was given permission by King Ethelbert of Kent to establish a church of St Andrew the Apostle (the same dedication as the monastery in Rome from which St Augustine and St Justus had set out for England) on the site of the present cathedral, which was made the home of a bishopric. The cathedral was to be served by a college of secular priests and was endowed with land near the city called Priestfield. The cathedral and city suffered much from the Mercians (676) and the Danes, but retained its importance, so much so that, when William of Normandy conquered England in 1066, he gave the church and its estates to his brother, Odo of Bayeux. The church was reduced to near-destitution, a situation only remedied in 1082 when Lanfranc, Archbishop of Canterbury visited and restored some of its lands and staff. Gundulf, the Norman Bishop of Rochester, also played a very active role; a talented architect himself, the bishop commissioned and probably had a major part in designing a new cathedral to replace Justus' church. He also replaced the secular chaplains by Benedictine monks, translated the relics of St Paulinus to a silver shrine that became a place of pilgrimage, obtained several royal grants of land, and proved a great benefactor to his cathedral city. By the time of his death he had built the nave and Western front, the Western transept being added between 1179 and 1200 and the Eastern transept during the reign of Henry III. The cathedral is small, being only 306 feet long, but its nave is the oldest in England and it has a fine Norman crypt. The present building is widely regarded as one of the finest Norman cathedrals in the country, with a particularly fine doorway at its western (main) entrance. The tympanum depicts Christ sitting in glory in the centre, with Justus and Ethelbert flanking him on either side of the doorway. After Gundulf's death, the cathedral had a somewhat chequered history. In 1130 the cathedral was consecrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury, assisted by thirteen 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. It was then looted in 1215 by the forces of King John and again in 1264 by Simon de Montfort, during sieges of the city and its castle. However, besides the shrine of St Paulinus, the cathedral contained the relics of St Ithamar, the first Saxon to be consecrated bishop, and of St William of Perth, a murdered Scottish pilgrim. In 1201 the offerings at St William's tomb were so great, that by their means the choir was rebuilt and the central tower was added (1343), thus completing the cathedral. The cathedral suffered a steep decline after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century, during which time its estates were confiscated by the Crown, and it became dilapidated and disreputable. Samuel Pepys, the diarist, dismissed it as a "shabby place". It underwent several restorations in the 19th century the principal works were carried out by Lewis Nockalls Cottingham from 1824 to 1830 followed by Sir George Gilbert Scott who took on the task in 1872, renovating the cathedral and restoring it to a reasonable facsimile of its original 11th century condition. Several years ago a new fresco was painted by Russian icon painter Sergei Fyodorov. The Reverend Grevile Marais Livett, FSA, a longtime precentor of Rochester Cathedral and later vicar of Wateringbury, authored several books and monographs on the Norman churches of England as well as contributing extensively to the Archaeologica Cantiana (The Journal of the Kent Archaeology Society). (Livett's name was a variant of Levett, an old Sussex and Kentish family.) Famous author, Charles Dickens had wished to be buried in the churchyard at Rochester. Instead, his body was taken, and buried in Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey.

Other burials
  • Paulinus of York, first Bishop of York, third Bishop of Rochester and Saint
  • Ithamar (bishop), first bishop in England to be Saxon-born, fourth Bishop of Rochester and Saint
  • Walter de Merton, Bishop of Rochester and founder of Merton College, Oxford
  • John Sheppey, Lord High Treasurer and Bishop of Rochester, buried at the altar of St John the Baptist.
  • John Hilsey, Bishop of Rochester
  • John Warner (bishop), buried in Merton's Chapel


The current pipe organ has its origins in the 1905 instrument built by J. W. Walker & Sons Ltd. It was rebuilt by Mander Organs in 1989 who a new Choir Organ and much new pipework under the advice of Paul Hale. A specification of the organ can be found on the National Pipe Organ Register.


Assistant organists
  • Henry Edmund Ford
  • Philip Armes 1850 - 1856
  • Frederick Bridge 1859 - 1865
  • Alfred Alexander
  • Joseph Bridge c.1868 (later organist of Chester Cathedral)
  • Glanville Hopkins 1899 - 1901
  • Hector E. Shallcross 1902 - 1908
  • Alfred H. Allen 1919 - 1921
  • Percy Whitlock 1921 - 1930 (then organist of St Stephen's Church, Bournemouth)
  • James Alfred Levett 1930 - 1976
  • David Poulter 1976 - 1981 (subsequently Director of Music at Coventry Cathedral, Chester Cathedral, and Liverpool Cathedral)
  • Paul Hale 1982 - 1989 (now organist and rector chori of Southwell Minster)
  • Roger Sayer 1989 - 1994
  • William Whitehead 1994 - 1998
  • Sean Farrell 1998 - 2001
  • James Eaton (acting) 2001 - 2002
  • Edmund Aldhouse 2002 - 2006
  • Dan Soper 2006 - 2010
  • Samuel Rathbone 2010 - present
See also the List of Organ Scholars at Rochester Cathedral.

King's Engineers
Bishop Gundulf, a monk from the Abbey of Bec in Normandy came to England in 1070 as Archbishop Lafranc's assistant at Canterbury. His talent for architecture had been spotted by King William I and was put to good use in Rochester where he was sent as bishop in 1077. Almost immediately the king appointed him to supervise the construction of the White Tower, now part of the Tower of London in 1078. Under William Rufus he also undertook building work on Rochester Castle. Having served three Kings of England and earning "the favour of then all" Gundulf is accepted as the first "King's Engineer". Gundulf died in 1108 and his statue adorns the west door of Rochester Cathedral. Because of his military engineering talent, Bishop Gundulf is regarded as the "father of the Corps of Royal Engineers". The corps claims a line of Kings Engineers pre-dating the engineers of the Board of Ordnance in 1414 and the formal founding of the corps in 1716 all the way back to Gundulf. This shared heritage and the close proximity to the cathedral of the Royal School of Military Engineering in Brompton means the Corps of Royal Engineers and Rochester Cathedral maintain strong links to this day. There are over 25 memorials to individual officers and soldiers of the Corps of Roral Engineers and a number of memorials representing members of the corps that have given their lives in the discharge of their duty, including many stained glass windows presented by the corps. A memorial tablet was erected in 1902 to the memory of three officers, graduates of the Royal Military College of Canada, who died while serving in Africa: Huntly Brodie Mackay, Captain Royal Engineers; William Henry Robinson, Captain Royal Engineers; and William Grant Stairs, Captain the Welsh Regiment. The latest memorial to the Corps of Royal Engineers was dedicated during the service of remembrance on the Corps Memorial Weekend, 19 September 2010, in the presence of the Dean, the Very Revd Adrian Newman, the Chief Royal Engineer, General Sir Peter Anthony Wall and the families of the ten Royal Engineers killed in Afghanistan since September 2009, recipients of the Elizabeth Cross.

  • James Plomley 1559
  • Roper Blundell 1588
  • John Williams 1599
  • John Heath 1614
  • Charles Wren 1672
  • Daniel Henstridge 1674
  • Robert Bowers 1699
  • John Spain 1704
  • Charles Peach 1721
  • Joseph Howe 1753
  • Richard Howe 1781
  • Ralph Banks 1790
  • John Larkin Hopkins 1841
  • John Hopkins 1856
  • Bertram Luard-Selby 1900
  • Charles Hylton Stewart 1916
  • Harold Aubie Bennett 1930
  • Dr. Robert Ashfield (1956 - 1977)
  • Barry Ferguson (1977 - 1994)
  • Roger Sayer (1994 - ) New position of Cathedral Organist created in 2008
  • Scott Farrell (2008 - ) Director of Music

Building Activity

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    about 6 years ago via