A brief history

Rochester Cathedral is England's second oldest, having been founded in AD604 by Bishop Justus. The present building dates back to the work of the French monk, Gundulf, in 1080. The glorious Norman architecture of the nave, parts of the crypt, as well as one of the finest Romanesque facades in England, make this an inspirational place to visit. The Cathedral is blessed with some fine examples of later Gothic styles as well as the magnificent 14th century Chapter Library door. Hidden from view (although it can be viewed by special appointment) is one of the oldest doors in England.

The Cathedral became a major place of pilgrimage in the 13th century, following the death of William of Perth, a Scottish baker who was murdered nearby. His body was brought to the Cathedral and at his shrine, of which no trace remains, miracles were reported.  Modern pilgrims who journey to the Cathedral still climb the Pilgrim Steps, now worn by the many thousands of medieval pilgrims visiting the shrine, often lighting candles at the William of Perth prayer-station in front of the oratory. Visitors who journey to the Cathedral today are direct descendants of those early pilgrims.

The first real fresco to be created in an English Cathedral for 800 years was dedicated on St John the Baptist's Day 2004. The fresco is on the theme of baptism. Its creation is the first step towards creating a baptistery in the north nave transept. The fresco was painted by Sergei Fyodorov, the Russian iconographer, and the richness and size of this narrative painting draws visitors from near and far; some to admire its artistry, and others to use it as a focus of meditation and prayer. Further details are available in the Virtual Tour.

Today, daily worship is central to the life of the Cathedral, indeed, there has been a community worshipping continually on this site for over 1400 years.

Cathedral timeline

  • Restoration

    The Crypt, Vestry and Chapter Library are restored as part of the Hidden Treasures; Fresh Expression Lottery project. Textus Roffensis returns to a new permanent home in the Cathedral

  • Anniversary

    1400th anniversary of the cathedral and the diocese of Rochester. Dedication of the Fresco. More details about the Fresco are available in the Panoramic Tour

  • Dedication

    The present tower and spire were dedicated

  • Restoration

    Major restoration work was carried out by George Gilbert Scott

  • Restoration

    The South Quire Transept was strengthened by L N Cottingham

  • Damage

    The Cathedral was damaged by Cromwell’s soldiers

  • Death

    Nicholas Ridley, Bishop of Rochester 1547-1550, was burned at the stake for his support of Lady Jane Grey. On 16th October he is remembered with commemoration in the calendar of saints in some parts of the Anglican Communion

  • Dedication

    A new foundation of a Dean and six Canons was established and the cathedral dedicated to Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary

  • Building

    The present Lady Chapel, the latest part of the cathedral, was enlarged as a Quire for the new-style polyphonic choirs who sang at the Lady Chapel altar in the South Transept

  • Building

    The present Nave clerestory replaced a smaller Romanesque one, and the Great West window was put in place

  • Building

    Hamo de Hythe vaulted the Transepts, raised the central tower and spire, and re-decorated the Quire. The Chapter Library door depicts his soul rising to heaven

  • Burial

    Walter de Merton, Bishop of Rochester (1274–1277) and founder of Merton College, Oxford, is buried in the Cathedral

  • Building

    The North Transept was built. The South Transept, originally used as a Lady Chapel, was built a few decades later

  • Consecration

    The new Quire was consecrated

  • Damage

    The cathedral was plundered when King John held it against the rebel barons. It was later desecrated by Simon de Montfort’s troops when they captured the city

  • Murder

    William of Perth was murdered nearby. Pilgrims visiting his shrine brought in money to help the monks re-build the cathedral

  • Building

    The Presbytery was begun, and roofed in by 1214

  • Building

    Work began on re-building in the Gothic style, starting with the Quire

  • Damage

    Fires destroyed the wooden roof of the Nave and damaged the Quire

  • Consecration

    The Norman Cathedral was consecrated on Ascension Day. Henry I attended the ceremony

  • Building

    The building of the present Nave was begun by Bishop Gundulf, a Benedictine monk from Bec in France

  • Building

    The Benedictine Priory of St Andrew was established by Gundulf (the first Norman Bishop) and remained until the dissolution of the monastery in 1540

  • Building

    Saxon cathedral built on land donated by King Ethelbert. The Saxon historian Bede tells us that Justus, first Bishop of Rochester, was consecrated here by St Augustine