by Anneliese Arnold
One day in 1980 I was walking towards the South Door of the Cathedral (before the porch was built) when I noticed a carved stone of the Norman period with a beautiful lattice pattern lying exposed in a flower bed where the soil had been washed away by torrential rain. It was too good to leave to the mercy of the elements, so I picked it up and took it home to save it from harm.
It was then that I remembered a footnote in St. John Hope's Architectural History to the effect that his friend and assistant George Payne, FSA had gathered together and placed in the slype beneath the Chapter Room 'a large number of carved and moulded architectural fragments, some of considerable beauty and interest that have been found from time to time at successive "restorations".' Despite George Payne's efforts, the stones had since been scattered again, a few preserved elsewhere in the cathedral, but many simply piled up on a ledge inside the ruined Chapter House, exposed to the weather. Some of the best have disappeared, doubtless taken as souvenirs or ornaments.
The late Emil Godfrey, Surveyor to the Fabric, loved the Cathedral and its stones; and when I discussed this with him in 1981, he was very enthusiastic about the possibility of establishing a Lapidarium, or depository of carved and worked stones. I then had to persuade the Dean (not as easy as you might think); and he had to persuade the Chapter to make available the old Treasury above the North Quire Transept. One problem was that it was littered with rubbish and with the old music books which the Choir had used in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Paul Hale rescued the books which were worth saving, catalogued them and placed them in the Music Library in Gundulf's Tower.
Two of our young people, Claire Walker and Leslie Hudson, helped to collect the stones and move them up to the Treasury; and the Cathedral Campers (in 1986) repaired and cleaned the walls and floor. Martin Caroe, our present Surveyor, was very supportive and he designed the shelving, which was erected by craftsmen from the Royal School of Military Engineering. This included transforming the previously
unusable but historic cupboards which had originally housed Dr Bray's Library into storage for the most important archaeological remains. It also affords a large flat working surface. The materials were paid for by our American friend, Mrs Mary Covert, who took and still takes a keen practical interest in the project. She has also taken most of the pictures for a photographic record.
Nearly one hundred years ago St John Hope wrote on the stones which George Payne had gathered: ‘They have yet to be sorted and labelled’ – and this remains true today. We need a competent person to produce a catalogue; and the Lapidarium will then be useful to students and scholars and to all who appreciate this part of our heritage.
Rochester is fortunate to possess some outstanding examples of carved and painted masonry. A stone with the remains of an early twelfth-century fresco was found in the vault of the crypt during recent conservation work. The magnificently carved fragments found by Cottingham in the walled up tomb on the north side of the presbytery, in 1825, are also kept in the Lapidarium. Doubtless they were hidden there as an act of piety and for safe keeping at a time of destruction following the Reformation. They were carved to the glory of God by those of whom we can say ‘their prayer is in their handiwork’ (Ecclesiasticus, 38, 34) and as such they deserve our interest and protection today.
Anneliese Arnold (1991)
Friends of Rochester Cathedral Annual Report for 1990–1991
An Exciting Find
by Mary Covert
There are very few documents or other artefacts datable to the pre-Conquest period at Rochester Cathedral, although from available evidence it appears that the successive cathedrals of Rochester have occupied approximately the same site from their establishment in 604 to the present time. Thus it is particularly gratifying to report the find of an artefact that almost of certainly pre-dates even the earliest parts of the present Cathedral. Such is the case of a fragment carved stone found embedded in an interior wall of the south-west turret in 1984 and removed for study in 1987. It is most probably a fragment of a memorial marker (perhaps a standing gravestone) which was reduced to rubble to be used in the construction of the west facade of the Norman Cathedral.
In 1984, while engaged in study of the west end of the Cathedral, the author chanced to notice the carved stone in the wall behind the door to the nave. At that time, the stairwell was not lit and the stone was difficult to see. The style of the carving appeared to be Anglo-Saxon or Viking, but it was difficult to be sure. A torchlight photograph was attempted and was successful so that back in the United States I was able to confirm my guess about its style. In the autumn of 1987, once again in England, I took the Dean and Mrs. Arnold over to see the stone. It was with considerable anticipation that I opened the door, and to my great delight, I found that the area now had lights so that the stone was easy to find. It was immediately clear that although only a fragment remained, it had come from a piece of sculpture of very high quality. The exposed face of the fragment had a lively design (see back cover) and the remains of colour could be seen.
At Mrs. Arnold's request, the Dean and Chapter granted permission for the stone to be removed for further study. Mr. Keith Taylor of Taylor, Pearce Restoration Services Ltd., carefully removed the stone from its surrounding mortar but found no more fragments of the same kind of stone. To the great joy and surprise of the Arnolds (the author again being in America) the stone proved to be carved not only on its exposed face, but on its back and curved edge as well. Photographs and measurements were made and sent to me, by kindness of Mrs. Arnold, and I did some research on the piece.
This was not the first piece of pre-Conquest sculpture to be found in or near Rochester Cathedral. Two carved stone fragments identified as Saxon by W. St. John Hope and G. M. Livett were found late in the 19th century during the restoration of the west front. The larger stone (now in the Cathedral lapidarium) is carved on one side only and was arranged in adjoining panels, one containing a fragment of interlace and the other containing what has been identified as the hindquarters of a running beast. The smaller fragment, carved with a strap design, and showing traces of red and brown colouring, has disappeared. In 1976-77, during the excavations at the Prior's Gate House, another small fragment of Anglo-Saxon sculpture was uncovered and was published in Archæologia Cantiana by Dr. M. J. Swanton (1980). None local stone of these finds were carved in but were of limestone from the Jurassic Ridge perhaps in the Barnack, Northants region.
The new fragment, on the contrary, is probably Wealden sandstone from the Hastings Beds. By the character of the motifs and carving, it can be identified as being from the Ringerike period of Viking art; in England, roughly the first half of the eleventh century. The stone is approximately the shape and size indicated in Figure A. The curved edge bears part of an inscription in Latin. The relatively straight edges were either cut or broken when the original object was reduced to building rubble. Although there is some damage to the three finished surfaces, the carving of both the designs and the inscription are in excellent condition and show little evidence of wear. Remains of colours, white, crimson, and very little bright orange can be found on the side and back. The exposed face is covered by a pollution layer but where this has been scratched some colour is visible. The front and back are carved in shallow relief. The design of the back is geometric, very simple in character, but the front is filled with motifs typical of the Ringerike period.
Three major motifs characterize the work of the Ringerike period: elongated tendrils (see upper part of fragment) sometimes with buds, derived from Winchester acanthus motifs; representations of the 'Great Beast' or lion; and the 'Serpent', the latter two often in combat. The sculpture field is often crowded as is the front of the Rochester fragment, and the carving is taut and the outlines lively. On the Rochester piece the tendrils and buds are obvious, but it is not entirely clear what the quarter-round motif on its lower left might have been. D. Tweddle of the York Archæological Trust has suggested that this motif may well be the central part of a cross which had been carved on a head stone.
The Latin inscription is unusual on a piece from this period. Further studies of the decoration and the inscription are being undertaken at this time. The Cathedral's Architect reports that St. Andrew' Trust has made a generous grant toward the cleaning and conservation of this stone.
Friends of Rochester Cathedral Annual Report for 1988
3D models of the Ringerike stone fragment and the other Anglo-Saxon stone fragment in the exhibition