The Medieval town of Rochester was our first stop on our road trip through the county of Kent, England. Wandering the old town, we spent the morning browsing boutique shops set in centuries-old, crooked buildings. By the afternoon, we made our way to the town’s most notable feature, Rochester Cathedral.
With a history spanning from at least the first century, Rochester Cathedral is more than just a holy site, it is an ancient artifact. A pilgrimage site over the centuries, the worn steps within the cathedral demonstrate its importance in history.
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A Little History on Rochester Cathedral
Though we rarely visit churches or cathedrals in the US, they are among our favorite stops when we are in Europe. In addition to places of prayer, throughout Europe many churches are historical artifacts.
For instance, the current Nave of Rochester Cathedral dates to 1083. However, founded by Bishop Justus, a Saxon cathedral once sat on this very land as far back as 604 AD. In England, only Rochester Cathedral’s nearby neighbor, Canterbury Cathedral, is older. As someone raised in a relatively new country, these ancient dates always amaze me.
Basic Visiting Information
- Located just off Rochester’s High Street, the cathedral is only a five-minute walk from the train station.
- A short-stay car park directly across the street and another also at the train station make the town and cathedral an easy stop on any road trip.
- Rochester Cathedral is free to visit; however, they do ask for donations towards the building’s upkeep.
- The cathedral is open every day; though, they may close for special occasions and large events or services.
Inside Rochester Cathedral
We felt lucky to have a sunny day. The light illuminated the stained-glass windows and made the copper organ glow.
Follow the Pilgrim Steps
In the 13th century, Rochester Cathedral became a place of pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint William of Perth. Severely worn by those that came to pay tribute, the Pilgrim Steps now sit protected under a wooden staircase on the north side of the cathedral.
William, on his own pilgrimage to the holy lands, was a devout Christian and Scottish baker in Perth. David, his adopted son, was traveling with him. Legend has it, David betrayed William and killed him not far from Rochester Cathedral.
A mentally deranged woman found William’s body and cared for it. She was then miraculously cured of her mental illness. The monks saw this as a sign from God and saw William as a martyr. In the cathedral, they built a shrine in his honor and a small chapel at the location where he died.
Rochester Cathedral’s Little Green Men
Near the crossing of the Nave, we noticed a red ceiling. In the center of the ceiling, four peculiar faces stared down at us. Through our travels, we’ve come across these demon-esk faces before.
Known as the “Green Man” because of the greenery surrounding the face, you’ll find these creepy fellas in many churches built in the Middle Ages in Europe.
No one is quite sure where they originated, nor what they mean, but there’s evidence of them going back to the first century AD.
Speculation is they are a Pagan symbol, as Pagans once worshiped trees. Others believe they represent the seasons, symbolizing birth, death, and rebirth. Both sound like logical explanations to us. We’ve seen many pagan symbols in churches across Europe. However, we’ve also seen lots of these Green Men surrounded in spring flowers while others had autumn leaves.
On the south side of the cathedral, the elaborately decorated Chapter Door marks the entrance to the Chapter Library.
Built around 1350, the beautiful wood door in the statue-lined stone archway once led to the monastic Chapter House. A sign next to the doorway explained what each of the statues represented.
Inside the Chapter Library, the collection has many early bibles and theology works. They also have a handful of medieval manuscripts.
Down in the Crypt
We sometimes avoid the crypts of old churches because honestly, they creep me out a bit. However, the crypt at Rochester Cathedral is nothing like you would expect. Believe it or not, they have a really nice cafe down there worth checking out.
The crypt is also where they hold exhibitions. We happened to be there for one telling the story of the cathedral’s early beginnings.
A piece of information we found interesting was on the “graffiti” around the church, mostly mason markings. We then eagerly searched the historic walls for evidence, which we found plenty of. Unfortunately, these markings didn’t come out great in photos. We recommend checking out the Rochester Cathedral’s website which gives a lot of great information on the over 7,000 inscriptions around the building.
Where to Stay
- To stay in Rochester proper the newly renovated Trivelles Rochester Hotel is within easy walking distance of the Cathedral and the train station.
If you also plan on visiting some of Kent’s bigger attractions, like Leeds Castle and Canterbury, you may find it easier to base yourself in the nearby town of Maidstone.
We hope you enjoy your visit to Rochester Cathedral.
Here are a few other posts around England you may enjoy.