I love stained glass – and incidentally the little diamond shaped panes are called quarries. It turns out that glass has been around since the third millennium BC – leading us to the inevitable question of What did the Romans ever do for us?
The gallery depicts modern glass which can be found in St Mary’s Church, Richmond, North Yorkshire. it won’t come as a surprise to learn that much of the medieval glass was somewhat knocked about during the English Civil War and Commonwealth period. Restoration commenced under Sir George Gilbert Scott during the Victorian period.
The ones pictures below are modern and dedicated to Ruth Gedye who was just eighteen years old when she died. The artist Alan Davis of Whitby created the image based on Ruth’s favourite hymns.
The last image in the gallery comes from a different window in the church. Alan’s work can also be found in Manchester Cathedral. Hicks notes that the abstract designs with which we are familiar these days were popularised after World War Two thanks to commissions for Coventry Cathedral and the Catholic cathedral in Liverpool. She lists some examples and although I have seen the ‘Prisoners of Conscience’ window in Salisbury I can’t remember it particularly clearly, unlike the Richard III window at Leicester.
For those of you familiar with the area just beyond Ripon you’re probably thinking Marmion! A medieval gatehouse near the church is all that remains of a medieval manor house. It’s possible that there was a Norman castle first but nothing remains. Licence to crenelate (fortify) was granted in 1314. The family associated with the area were the Marmions.
So starting with Robert. Our first Robert died in 1216 was married twice and had families with both his wives – and thought that it would be useful to call both of his first sons Robert. Thankfully he was part of the Staffordshire elite so lets just leave him as 3rd Baron Marmion of Tamworth.
In 1215 Robert the Younger (the son from the second marriage) Marmion of Tamworth paid the avaricious King John £350 and five palfreys to marry Amicia/Avice the daughter of Jernigan or Gernegan FitzHugh of West Tanfield – a minor heiress with lands in Yorkshire. Needless to say starting the conversation with King John results in revolting barons, confiscations and general unhappiness especially when King John gave the order to demolish Tamworth Castle. Fortunately for the Marmions the contractors didn’t move in.
Eventually the Marmions got themselves back on track with the younger Robert coughing up more cash both for his own lands and his elder half-brother’s estates as he was continuing to rebel. By 1220 Robert the Elder was in control of Tamworth. There followed a series of male Marmions until yet another Robert Marmion died leaving his sister Avis as his heir. She held the manor jointly with her husband John de Grey of Rotherfield but their son rather than being called de Grey was known as Marmion which brings us back to the rather marvellous alabaster effigy in St Nicholas’s Church.
He died in 1387 in the service of John of Gaunt in Spain so the manor passed back into the hands of the FitzHugh family via John’s nice Elizabeth. Eventually the manor passed back up the family tree and across to the Parrs by right of Elizabeth FitzHugh before returning to the Crown and for a while into the hands of William Cecil Lord Burghley. The lady by Sir John’s side is his wife Elizabeth.
The gallery images also show a wall painting of St George slaying the dragon – St George is left handed I think. And some lions for recumbent effigies to rest their feet upon. I can’t resist the animal footrests or the rarer animal cushions. I think lions are supposed to show valour and nobility. And it turns out that in medieval bestiaries lion cubs who were born dead came back to life after three days because of their mother’s breathing on them – so not a huge step to the resurrection and life after death.
A ledge provided by a hinged seat in choir stalls for clerics to lean on during services. Translates from the French meaning of ‘mercy seat’. Ripon has 32 of them which were created at the end of the 15th century. I particularly like the bagpipe playing pig, Jonah emerging from a very sharp toothed whale, the lady (I think) in a wheel barrow and the mermaid.
Where did the month go? Sorry – got carried away with decorating, sewing mask (seriously who’d have thought) and generally pottering around. And if I’m honest “words, words, words” is rather bigger than I thought….or rather didn’t think.
But it has given you a good long time to come up with a list of words associated with churches and cathedrals. How did you do? I am sure that there are others – this is not a complete list. However after a month with no posts I think it’s time I got back to my more usual blogging habits.
Saxon – pre-Conquest . Buildings were often constructed from wood or incorporated into medieval churches but one give away are chunky, deepest windows with triangular points at the top. And here’s a thought the Saxons developed the idea of church towers – the usual reason given is that they were for watching out for the enemy.
Norman (Romanesque) – semi circular arches and vaulting. Quite chunky looking buildings in most cases. Small windows, thick walls and the dog-tooth zig zag pattern which is a common motif of the period. A carved stone font.
Early English (began about 1200) The whole medieval period of church building also has the label Gothic.
The rounded windows give way to larger, pointed windows (lancet windows). Or put another way pointy arches were invented. The ceiling was pushed up by the use of clusters of piers to support arches which became narrower than the Norman columns. Vaults which also helped to push the ceiling up were constructed in four parts (like a cross). Stained glass starts to be used and rose windows are introduced.
Decorated (about 1290) – does what it says on the tin. Everything that cane decorated is. We’re also at fan vaulting and tracery. Four leaved flowers and geometric patterns or “diapering” were very popular as well.
aisle – walkway down the middle or sides of the nave. side aisles tend to be lined on one side by columns or pillars.
altar or communion table – usually situated at the East end of the church or at the crossing in cathedrals. They can also be found in side chapels.
ambulatory – aisle around the east end of the choir joining the choir side aisles to make a continuous passage.
apse – semi circular bit that sticks out from the east end of the building – not to be found in all churches.
arcade– series of arches carried on piers (architectural term for columns.)
aumbry – a small recess or cupboard in the wall of a church for storing sacred vessels and vestments.
blind arch – an arch with no opening. Usually decoration.
boss – a stone at the intersection of ribs in the vaulting that projects down from the ceiling. Very often they are elaborately carved. The boss ties the vaulting together a bit like a keystone in an arch.
buttress a support built against a wall which reinforces it. This means that medieval masons were able to build taller walls because buttresses braced the walls to act against the lateral (sideways) forces acting from the roof.
campanile -detached bell tower.
capital– the stone on the top of a column.
chancel – area at the east end of the church beyond the nave. There is usually a step up from the nave to the chancel.
chapel – small building or room set aside for worship – the “room” might be created by wooden partitions or be a specific stone built chamber. Larger churches or cathedrals often have many chapels dedicated to different saints. Chantry chapels are where prayers for the dead are said.
chapter house – meeting place for the governing body of a monastery or cathedral. Chapter houses in England are usually polygonal with a central column supporting the roof.
choir, sometimes quire, area with seating for the clergy and church choir. Choirs can usually be found in the chancel, between the nave and the sanctuary. Medieval choir-stalls, involve seating at right-angles to the seating for the congregation in the nave and these seats would often be highly decorated misericords which are not so much seats as perches to lean on during lengthy services.
clerestory– wall that contains windows high above eye level usually in the nave or side aisles of Romanesque or Gothic churches.
cloister – usually four sided area surrounded by covered walkways, the middle tends to be an area of grass or garden.
close– the precincts in which a cathedral and any other buildings that supplement a cathedral stand. There may well be a gatehouse and walls around the precinct.
corbel – stonework that sticks out of the wall to support something above it – such as an arch or a beam. Often decorated.
crypt – stone chamber beneath the floor of the church containing, coffins, relics or these days chapels.
galilee – porch at the western end of the church used as a chapel for women and/or penitents. It can refer to the entire western end of the nave.
gargoyle – a grotesque carved with a spout to take water from a roof and away from the side of the building.
lancet window – pointed window that is part of the Early English evolution of church design.
lantern tower – tower above the crossing with windows to give light on the floor below.
lectern – reading desk, often in the shape of an eagle, made to hold the Bible during services.
misericord The Latin word for “mercy” gives us misericord – folding wooden brackets in choir stalls that clergy could lean against during long services. They are often beautifully carved.
nave – the main body of the church where the congregation sits today but where they stood in the medieval period as there were no pews.
pew -long wooden benches in the church. Pews started to be placed in churches at the end of the medieval period. Many bench-ends were carved with animal and foliate designs. Box pews are high sided enclosed pews with doors. Some even had their own stove to keep people warm.
pulpit – raised stand from which the preacher addresses the congregation.
pulpitum – stone screen, sometimes wood, that divides the choir (the area containing the choir stalls and high altar. Basically, if acts like a rood screen in a smaller church.
reliquary– casket containing relics.
reredos – decorated screen behind the altar.
rood – another name for a cross
rood screen – the screen separated the chancel from the nave, often surmounted by a cross during the medieval period.
sanctuary – the area beyond the chancel where the altar stands. Again, there is often a step up from the chancel to the sanctuary and there may be a rail as well. Think of the journey east through the church as gradually becoming more Holy – the “zones” are marked by steps, screens and rails.
stoup – basin for holy water near the west door. Can be built into the wall or free-standing.
transept – crossing place usually at the east end of the nave between the nave and chancel where the building is built in a cross shape.
Robert Louis Stephenson said “I never weary of great churches. It is my favorite kind of mountain scenery. Mankind was never so happily inspired as when it made a cathedral.” – Robert’s grandfather also named Robert began the tradition of lighthouse building The author’s father and two uncles were also lighthouse keepers. If you’d like to know more then Bella Bathuhurst’s book The Lighthouse Stephensons is for you.
Charles Dickens wrote this description of Canterbury Cathedral in David Copperfield which drew on his own childhood experiences after his father was imprisoned for debt. “The rooks were sailing about the cathedral towers; and the towers themselves, overlooking many a long unaltered mile of the rich country and its pleasant streams, were cutting the bright morning air as if there were no such thing as change on earth.”
“Intellectuals are cynical and cynics have never built a cathedral.” Henry Kissinger won a Nobel prize having served in Richard Nixon’s administration.
Thomas Carlyle, also known as the Sage of Chelsea, said “The old cathedrals are good, but the great blue dome that hangs over everything is better.”
“Cathedrals, luxury liners laden with souls, Holding to the east their hulls of stone.” – W.H. Auden wrote this line in On this Island.
“The most expensive part of building is the mistakes.” – Ken Follett wrote two books which featured the town of Kingsbridge – The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End which is placed two hundred years after the first novel. For those of you looking for something historical to get your teeth into there are the books and a mini-series featuring Ian McShane, Matthew Macfadyen and Eddie Redmayne.
“The most solid thing was the light. It smashed through the rows of windows in the south aisle, so that they exploded with colour, it slanted before him from right to left in an exact formation, to hit the bottom yard of the pillars on the north side of the nave. Everywhere, fine dust gave these rods and trunks of light the importance of a dimension. He blinked at them again, seeing, near at hand, how the individual grains of dust turned over each other, or bounced all together, like mayfly in a breath of wind. He saw how further away they drifted cloudily, coiled, or hung in a moment of pause, becoming, in the most distant rods and trunks, nothing but colour, honey-colour slashed across the body of the cathedral. Where the south transept lighted the crossways from a hundred and fifty foot of grisaille, the honey thickened in a pillar that lifted straight as Abel’s from the men working with crows at the pavement.” – The author of this rather lengthy quote about the building of Salisbury Cathedral is William Golding better known for his work The Lord of the Flies. The book featuring Salisbury Cathedral is called The Spire.
“If you seek his monument, look around.” – whose epitaph is this and where can it be found? This particular epitaph can be found in St Paul’s Cathedral on the tomb of Sir Christopher Wren, Seventeenth Century London’s great church builder.
“Along the sculptures of the western wall I watched the moonlight creeping: It moved as if it hardly moved at all Inch by inch thinly peeping Round on the pious figures of freestone, brought And poised there when the Universe was wrought To serve its centre, Earth, in mankind’s thought.” Thomas Hardy wrote about Salisbury Cathedral after visiting it he is best known for his novels set in Wessex.
“Somehow, cathedrals have contrived to snap free of the sectarian exclusivity of the parish church. They answer to a longing for congregation and communal space. Their key is a quality unfashionable to social analysis, the offer of solitude with beauty. You need not to be of faith to sit quietly and contemplate the loveliness of a cathedral. As a dean once hinted to me in a whisper, “Here we don’t bang on about God.” Simon Jenkins writes for The Guardian and wrote the book called England’s Cathedrals.
Time for answers – how did you do and how many have you visited?
Old Foundation Cathedrals: These cathedrals were ‘secular’ foundations dating from before the Reformation. This simply means that their chapters weren’t made up from monks in a closed order – their chapters were always run by canons who were of the world rather than being enclosed. Essentially the lack of monastic involvement meant that these cathedrals were unaffected by the dissolution of the monasteries.
In England: Chichester, Exeter, Hereford, Lichfield, Lincoln, London (St Paul’s), Salisbury, Wells and York.
In Wales: Bangor, Llandaff, St Asaph, and St David’s.
New Foundation Cathedrals: These cathedrals either functioned as public places of worship with monastic chapters in the medieval period or were abbeys. The Reformation was not good news for their monastic inhabitants. Cromwell reorganised the dioceses and church administration of England and Wales. New non-monastic constitutions were applied. For instance, St Mary’s Abbey church in Carlisle became the Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Many cathedrals were re-founded during the reign of Henry VIII often with the last abbot or prior becoming the dean of the new chapter.
In England: Canterbury, Carlisle, Durham, Ely, Norwich, Rochester, Winchester and Worcester had already existed prior to the reformation as cathedrals. In addition, Henry created new bishoprics and cathedrals from Bristol (the Holy and Undivided Trinity), Chester, Gloucester, Oxford and Peterborough.
Modern Foundation Cathedrals or Parish Church Cathedrals: from the mid 1800s (the first dates from 1836) a number of new cathedrals have been established which reflect the changing population of England and Wales. They include cathedrals based upon former parish churches, to meet the needs of new dioceses.
In England: Blackburn, Birmingham, Bradford, Chelmsford, Coventry, Derby, Guildford, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Portsmouth, Ripon, St Albans St Edmundsbury, Sheffield, Southwark, Southwell, Truro, Wakefield
IN Wales: Brecon, Newport
Cannon, Jon. (2007) Cathedral: The Great English Cathedrals. London: Constable.
Jenkins, Simon. (2016) England’s Cathedrals. London: Little Brown
Please feel free to add quotes into the comments relating to the UK’s cathedrals. And to get you thinking who said the following:
“I never weary of great churches. It is my favorite kind of mountain scenery. Mankind was never so happily inspired as when it made a cathedral.” – The author of this quote is a writer related to a famous lighthouse building family.
“The rooks were sailing about the cathedral towers; and the towers themselves, overlooking many a long unaltered mile of the rich country and its pleasant streams, were cutting the bright morning air as if there were no such thing as change on earth.” – The author of this quote about Canterbury Cathedral owned a house in Rochester and another in Broadstairs.
“Intellectuals are cynical and cynics have never built a cathedral.”- The author of this quote won a Nobel prize having served in Richard Nixon’s administration.
“The old cathedrals are good, but the great blue dome that hangs over everything is better.” – The author of this quote is also known as the Sage of Chelsea.
Cathedrals, luxury liners laden with souls, Holding to the east their hulls of stone.” – The author of this quote wrote a poem that featured in Four Weddings and a Funeral.
“The most expensive part of building is the mistakes.” – The author of this quote writes thrillers and historical novels. He wrote two books which featured the town of Kingsbridge.
“The most solid thing was the light. It smashed through the rows of windows in the south aisle, so that they exploded with colour, it slanted before him from right to left in an exact formation, to hit the bottom yard of the pillars on the north side of the nave. Everywhere, fine dust gave these rods and trunks of light the importance of a dimension. He blinked at them again, seeing, near at hand, how the individual grains of dust turned over each other, or bounced all together, like mayfly in a breath of wind. He saw how further away they drifted cloudily, coiled, or hung in a moment of pause, becoming, in the most distant rods and trunks, nothing but colour, honey-colour slashed across the body of the cathedral. Where the south transept lighted the crossways from a hundred and fifty foot of grisaille, the honey thickened in a pillar that lifted straight as Abel’s from the men working with crows at the pavement.” – The author of this rather lengthy quote about the building of Salisbury Cathedral is most famous for his debut novel written in 1954 that saw a party of children stranded on an island with unpleasant consequences.
“If you seek his monument, look around.” – whose epitaph is this and where can it be found?
“Along the sculptures of the western wall I watched the moonlight creeping: It moved as if it hardly moved at all Inch by inch thinly peeping Round on the pious figures of freestone, brought And poised there when the Universe was wrought To serve its centre, Earth, in mankind’s thought.” The author of this verse wrote about Salisbury Cathedral after visiting it he is best known for his novels set in Wessex.
“Somehow, cathedrals have contrived to snap free of the sectarian exclusivity of the parish church. They answer to a longing for congregation and communal space. Their key is a quality unfashionable to social analysis, the offer of solitude with beauty. You need not to be of faith to sit quietly and contemplate the loveliness of a cathedral. As a dean once hinted to me in a whisper, “Here we don’t bang on about God.” The author of this quote writes for The Guardian and wrote book called England’s Cathedrals.
There are actually 18 cities in England and Wales without an Anglican cathedral which comes as a bit of a surprise as I learned at school that in order to be a city then a cathedral was required. Equally there thirteen towns with Anglican Cathedrals that do not have city status – just goes to prove that the stuff you learn as a child isn’t necessarily correct…
Your challenge for week 4 is to name as many cathedrals in England and Wales as you can – location rather than which saint is involved – though if you can think of location and exact name please do so!
A cathedral is, of course, the main church in a diocese – or administrative area under the pastoral care of it’s bishop. It is where the bishop has his or her cathedra or throne.
There are three groups of cathedrals. Many cathedrals were once part of a monastic foundation. When Henry VIII closed them down in the 1530s many were re-founded as cathedrals which means that quite often the last prior or abbot of an abbey became a cathedral’s first dean. This kind of cathedral is a New Foundation Cathedral whereas Old Foundation cathedrals were never part of the monastic scene – they were run by secular canons i.e. they were part of the wider world and they were in place before the Reformation. There are nine Old Foundation Cathedrals in England and Wales. The third group are Modern Foundations which were created in the nineteenth or twentieth centuries. A cathedral in this group is sometimes called a parish church cathedral. The modern foundations reflect the way in which populations changed due to industrialisation and urbanisation.
Today Howden is a sleepy little town between Doncaster and York. The ancient county of Howdenshire under the jurisdiction of the Prince Bishops of Durham no longer exists as an administrative entity but in the medieval period Howden lay at the center of a thriving hub. It was a residence for the Prince Bishops of Durham to provide a headquarters in the south (I know – for those of you who think the Watford Gap is in the north, it is a concept that may be difficult to compute but Northumbrians and Cumbrians will no doubt be nodding approvingly).
As well as providing a residence well away from the turbulent Scottish border it also allowed the canons who lived in the minster precincts to administer the bishop’s lands. They set up a grammar school in about 1265 to teach Latin and song to the choristers. The school remained in use until 1925.
Before the Norman Conquest the church belonged to the monks of Peterborough Abbey but in 1080 it was gifted by Wiliam the Conqueror to Wiliam of Calais who was the Bishop of Durham at the time. Howdenshire also came under the jurisdiction of Durham. William of Calais initially aimed at creating a monastic foundation but it did not thrive so the way Howden was staffed had to be changed – more on that in a moment.
All that remains of Howden Minster today is its west end which now serves as Howden’s parish church. The Oxford Dictionary defines a minster as a large or important church. It may have cathedral status but not always. Probably the best-known minster with cathedral status in the country is York Minster. The ruins of the larger medieval foundation at Howden are cared for by English Heritage. Double click on the image at the start of this post to open its webpage in a new window.
Just to confuse the issue still further Howden Minster used to be a collegiate church meaning that it was the residence of canons or a college of priests with the word college simply meaning an organized group with rights and duties. It was founded by Robert, Bishop of Durham, in 1266, for Secular clerks, and dedicated to St. Peter and St. Cuthbert. “There were originally five prebends, to which a sixth was subsequently added.” The canons were all priests despite the description of them as being “secular.” All the phrase means is that they weren’t Augustinian, i.e. they didn’t take monastic vows, although presumably the Bishop of Durham would have taken a dim view if they hadn’t lived a fairly monastic life with all the usual eschewing of women and wealth. Thus, very loosely, the foundation at Howden was not monastic like an abbey it was more of an administrative part of the bishop’s diocese with the canons as administrators. They were led by a dean rather than an abbot or prior.
The community of priests was not self-supporting in the way that an abbey or a priory was self-supporting although it was self governing – hence the existence of a chapter house. The Bishop of Durham elected to use the prebendary system which sounds complicated but simply means that the canons received an income or stipend from a nearby parish church; in this case Barnby, Howden, Saltmarsh, Skelton, Skipwith and Thorpe.
Nowhere is this better demonstrated that the canons of Howden were not part of a monastic foundation than by the fact that whilst England’s monasteries were dissolved in the reign of Henry VIII it wasn’t until 1548, in the reign of Edward VI, that collegiate churches, including the one at Howden, were abolished. Thomas Cromwell’s monastic visitors did come to Howden because the record of their findings still exists. In 1535 the value of the college is given as £96 8s. 10½d. gross, and net £61 2s. 10½d. Had it purely been a monastic foundation it would have fallen well within the limits set for the identification of smaller monasteries of £200 a year or less and been dissolved in 1536.
The current building was erected in the thirteenth century in a geometric style and it is thought that masons who worked on the Notre Dame de Paris and then on the rebuilding of Westminster Abbey during the reign of Henry III (King John’s son) came north to work on Howden Minster reflecting its importance at that time. By the fifteenth century a chapter house had been added. Another feature of the medieval minster were its chantries including one with an altar dedicated to St Cuthbert.
The income of the minster was also helped by the existence of a shrine where John of Howden was buried. He was Eleanor of Provence’s (Henry III’s wife) confessor and gained a reputation as a saint although he was never canonised. His death and burial in 1275 added an extra stream of income for the canons. He’d started building a new quire during his lifetime and prophesied that he would achieve his goal after his death if not before. After his death, miracles occurred at his tomb, including one on his own funeral when he was seen to raise his arms out of his coffin. His tomb was visited by royalty including Edward I and Henry V.
It will come as no surprise to followers of English Civil War history that Parliamentarians stabled their horses in Howden Minster or that they broke up the organ and used the pipes as whistles. In addition to Roundheads the weather wasn’t particularly kind to the minster and in 1929 arson destroyed its tower and the choir stalls which were replaced by Robert Thomson of Kilburn, the famous Kilburn Mouseman on account of the wooden mice than can be found lurking on his creations. Howden Minster is famous for the number of mice that can be spotted on its furniture and woodwork. Apparently there are nearly forty of them in residence.
Amazingly there are some medieval survivals in Howden including three statues, one of which is thought to present the Virgin Mary. Not everyone is in agreement as to who the lady might be but one thing is for sure she is a stunning survival and one which must have been carefully protected across the centuries.
Its that time of year again when my mind turns to teaching. This term I’m back with Henry VIII and his wives and mistresses; the Norman Conquest and the English Reformation so that should keep me out of mischief for a while, though thankfully Henry’s love life is rather closely bound to the progress of the English Reformation. Today though I’m sticking with cathedrals: Rochester Cathedral to be specific – it has links with all the courses I have just mentioned one way or another.
In the aftermath of the conquest Rochester found itself in the hands of Bishop Odo, William the Conqueror’s half-brother. Once Lanfranc of Bec was created Archbishop of Canterbury the territory around Rochester was wrested from Odo’s control and given to the newly appointed Bishop of Rochester, who at this stage we could think of as a kind of deputy to the Archbishop of Canterbury, not that the influence or power lasted very long.
Both the cathedral with its Benedictine abbey and the early castle at Rochester, an important crossing point for the Medway, were the work of this bishop. Bishop Gundulf was a Norman appointment well known to Archbishop Lanfranc. Like Lanfranc, Gundulf was a monk at Bec before being summoned across the Channel to help reform the English Church along Norman lines. Gundulf turned out to have been a bit of a builder having a hand in the building of the Tower of London as well as the castle and cathedral at Rochester. He began work on Rochester Cathedral in 1080 using imported stone from the quarries at Caen. By 1083 his workmen had started on the nave which still stands despite a fire in 1138 which saw the monks made homeless for a time. The crypt is also a good example of the Romanesque or Norman style of architecture.
The problem for later Bishops was that the cathedral’s powerful neighbour in Canterbury owned more of the land around Rochester than Rochester did. Not only was Rochester a cathedral being the seat of the bishop it was also an abbey. Inevitably with the passage of time there were ructions between the needs of the more worldly bishops and the more inward looking monks and their prior especially when the bishop was not selected from one of their number.
The first instance of this occurred in 1124 when the monks, fearful of their position, did a spot of creative thinking and miraculously discovered some long lost saintly relics and Bishop Gundulf who was by then a saint was remembered in a new book, the contents of which did’t bother unduly with the actual facts. Whilst they were at it, the monks set about creating a dossier of charters and rights that resulted in the monks and the bishops barely being on speaking terms. Nor did it go down well in Canterbury. Words like forgery were bandied around.
However, the death of Thomas Becket improved the relationship between the monks and the bishops of both Rochester and Canterbury primarily because the monks now discovered that they were on a booming pilgrim route – think of Rochester Abbey as offering a medieval ‘good night guarantee’.
Just when things couldn’t have been more eye-brow raising a pilgrim who’d managed to get all the way to Jerusalem and back without mishap was murdered in Rochester. William of Perth arrived in 1201, got himself murdered by his servant and then performed a miracle by curing a woman who touched the body. She was mad before but apparently became completely sane afterwards. William of Perth, a baker by trade, became an overnight success and a saint. The money that accrued from pilgrims flocking to William’s shrine paid for a new gothic east end to the cathedral.
We’ll move on from King John who looted the cathedral in 1215. Things went from bad to worse. In 1264 the cathedral and abbey fell victim to England’s civil war with soldiers stabling their horses in the cathedral.
The later monks didn’t seem to have the same inventive spirit of the earlier ones and by the end beginning of the thirteenth century the abbey was very badly in debt. Fortunately Prior Hamo came along and gave the monks and the cathedral a badly needed injection of energy. He launched a new period of building work in 1320.
There remains one more Bishop of Rochester who is impossible to ignore. He was executed on Tower Hill in June 1535 for failing to accept the supremacy or the fact of his monarch’s new marriage. His name was John Fisher. The monks at Rochester had all taken the oath of supremacy in 1534.
The following year Dr Layton arrived to visit the abbey as part of Thomas Cromwell’s Visitation of the Monasteries. In 1539 the monks of Rochester Abbey were shown the door and then allowed to return as the dean and chapter of six canons of one of Henry VIII’s new cathedrals.
Cannon, Jon. (2007) Cathedral: The Greatest English Cathedrals. London: Constable
‘Houses of Benedictine monks: The cathedral priory of St Andrew, Rochester’, in A History of the County of Kent: Volume 2, ed. William Page (London, 1926), pp. 121-126. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/kent/vol2/pp121-126 [accessed 17 August 2016].
Edward Hasted, ‘The city and liberty of Rochester: The priory and cathedral church’, in The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 4(Canterbury, 1798), pp. 86-110. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-kent/vol4/pp86-110 [accessed 16 August 2016].