Rochester Cathedral timeline

Welcome to the website of the Rochester Cathedral Research Guild. The timeline below can be used as an index to the history and archaeology of the site over the last 1400 years. Use the menu at the top of this page to view the Guild’s archive reports on its latest endeavours in recording and cataloguing the building and its history, each section includes a bibliography for further reading. Alternatively, you can view all archive reports arranged by date here.

The archive report detailing the compilation of this timeline is available here.

Historical context

Date (CE)

Rochester Cathedral

The Kingdom of Kent is ruled by a succession of Anglo-Saxon Kings. King Ethelbert is enthroned around 589.


Justus, first Bishop of Rochester, consecrated here by St Augustine and a cathedral built on land donated by King Ethelbert.

King Ethelbert dies and his successor, Eadbald of Kent, is not a Christian.


Justus flees to Francia and remains there for a year before being recalled by the new king

Canterbury grew into the economic and political centre of Kent during the seventh century. Development was also possibly present at Rochester, although archaeological evidence is lacking. It is known that both Canterbury and Rochester had major mints in this period, primarily producing silver sceattas.


Ithamar, the first English-born bishop, is consecrated at the cathedral.
655 Bishop Ithamar consecrated Deusdedit as the first Saxon Archbishop of Canterbury on 26 March.

In the late seventh century, Kent gradually came to be dominated by Mercia. Kent’s monopoly on cross-Channel trade and its control of the Thames was broken, eroding its economic influence.

676 The cathedral suffers much from an attack on Kent by King Aethelred of Mercia. So great was the damage that Bishop Putta retired from the diocese and his appointed successor, Cwichelm, gave up the see “because of its poverty”

Kent was conquered by Caedwalla of Wessex; within a year returning to devastate the kingdom again. After this, Kent fell into a state of disorder.


King Wihtred, famous for the Law of Wihtred, did a great deal to restore the kingdom after the devastation and tumult of the preceding years, and in 694 he made peace with the West Saxons.

726 A copy of the Law of Wihtred is preserved in the Textus Roffensis, written some 400 years later. Bishop Tobias dies and is recorded as being being under the ‘portico’ (porch) of the cathedral.

Bede writes his Ecclesiastical history of the English Peoples, which features Rochester in a number of entries, and informs us of goings on in the earliest days of the diocese.

733 (1 or 24 September). Æthelbald, king of Mercia, to Ealdwulf, bishop, and the church of St Andrew (Rochester); remission of the toll due on one ship at London

In the late seventh century, the earliest charters appear, giving estate boundaries, and showing reclamation of land, for use by livestock, from the Wantsum Channel and Romney Marsh.[44] The Ebbsfleet watermill in West Kent, dated to circa 700, also reflects new uses of the landscape.

738 Eadberht I, king of Kent, grants to Bishop Ealdwulf 10 sulungs (aratra) at Stoke in Hoo, Kent.
762 King Eardwulf, grants pasture rights at Holanspic, at Petteridge in Brenchley, and at Lindridge, Kent. King Sigerd, grants land.
765 King Egbert donates land to the Bishop.
778 Grant of a half sulung (aratrum) at Bromhey in Frindsbury, Kent, and a marsh called Scaga. With bounds of appurtenant meadows in Hreodham (? Redham in Cliffe, Kent).

During the eighth and ninth centuries, a number of fortified earthworks, most notably Wansdyke and Offa’s Dyke, were constructed as barriers between the warring kingdoms

785 Rochester Bridge burdens, documented from the 790s, lay out the obligation for the Roman bridge across the River Medway to be maintained, which would be vital for allowing Kentish troops to cross the river.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that Kent was first attacked by Viking raiders in the late eighth century and raids continue for the next 50 years.

842 Rochester is attacked by Vikings in 842 and again in 885, when they laid siege until it was liberated by Alfred’s army. The cathedral would likely have been an attractive target.
868 Æthelred I of Wessex grants to Cuthwulf, bishop of Rochester, land partly within and partly to the north of Rochester.
880 Æthelwulf of Wessex grants to St Andrew’s and Bishop Swithwulf three sulungs at Cuxton with the church of St Michael.

Southern England is s united under Alfred the Great, but Vikings raids into Kent continue.

942 Eadmund I grants three sulungs at Malling, Kent, to Bishop Burhric (of Rochester).
955 Eadgar of Wessex grants ten sulungs at Bromley to St Andrew’s in return for money paid by Bishop Ælfstan of Rochester to himself and his præfectus Wulfstan. Æthelred II (i.e Ethelred ‘the Unready’) restores to the see of Rochester, at the request of Bishop Godwine, six sulungs at Wouldham and one mansa at Littlebrook. There are disputes concerning the estate of Snodland, Kent.
c.975 Will of Byrhtric and his wife Ælfswith, including bequests to the cathedral.
998 Æthelred II restores to the see of Rochester six sulungs at Bromley and the use of forest in the Weald.

There were renewed Scandinavian attacks on England at the end of the 10th century, culminating in Cnut become king of England in 1016, beginning a dynasty ruling a kingdom which became the centre of government for an empire which also included Denmark and Norway.

1012 Æthelred II grants to Bishop Godwine of Rochester fifteen hides at Fen Stanton and Hilton, Hunts. A fragment of gravestone from this time in the Scandinavian Ringerike style was found embedded in the 12th-century west front of the cathedral in 1982.

The native dynasty was restored with the accession of Edward the Confessor in 1042, but the Norman invasion of 1066 begins a new era for the country and the cathedral.

1066 William the Conqueror granted the cathedral and its estates to his half-brother, Odo of Bayeux. Bishop Odo misappropriated the resources and reduced the cathedral to near-destitution.
1072 Archbishop Lanfranc of Canterbury, amongst others, brought Odo to account at the trial of Penenden Heath.
1077 Gundulf appointed as the first Norman bishop of Rochester. The cathedral and its lands were restored to the bishop.
1078 Gundulf founds St Bartholomew’s Hospital just outside the city of Rochester. The Priory contributed daily and weekly provisions to the hospital which also received the offerings from the two altars of St James and of St Giles.
1080 Gundulf begins construction of a new cathedral to replace Justus’ church. He was a talented architect who probably played a major part in the design of the works he commissioned.
1082 The Benedictine Priory of St Andrew was established by Gundulf (the first Norman Bishop).
1083 The building of the present Nave was begun by Bishop Gundulf, a Benedictine monk from Bec in France
1115 During the episcopates of Ernulf (1115–1124) and John I (1125–1137) the Early Norman cathedral was completed. The quire was rearranged, the nave partly rebuilt, Gundulf’s nave piers were cased and the west end built. Ernulf is also credited with building the refectory, dormitory and chapter house, only portions of which remain.
c.1123 The Textus Roffensis is written, a copy of a collection of manuscripts accumulated since Anglo-Saxon times. Many texts in this collection are the only copies to survive, detailing life before the Norman conquest.
1130 The Norman Cathedral was consecrated on Ascension Day. Henry I attended the ceremony.
1137 Around this date fires destroyed the wooden roof of the Nave and damaged the Quire.
1179 Another fire damages the east end of the building, work begins on re-building in the Gothic style.
1200 William of Perth was murdered nearby.  Pilgrims visiting his shrine brought in money to help the monks re-build the cathedral.
1201 The Presbytery was begun, and roofed in by 1214. Around this date an elaborate figurative decorative scheme featuring scenes from the bible is etched onto the walls and piers throughout the building and on the west front, thought to be the designs for an extensive paint scheme. Remnants of this scheme survive today.
1215 The cathedral was plundered when King John held it against the rebel barons.
1227 The new Quire was consecrated.
1230 The Rochester Bestiary is created; a beautiful thirteenth century manuscript, it is not known whether the manuscript got its name by being held at created at the priory or was held within the library
1240 Around this date the North Transept was built.  The South Transept, originally used as a Lady Chapel, was built a few decades later. The cathedral was rededicated in 1240 by Bishop Richard Wendene (also known as Richard de Wendover).
1264 The cathedral was desecrated in 1264 by the troops of Simon de Montfort, during sieges of the city and castle. It is recorded that armed knights rode into the church and dragged away some refugees. Gold and silver were stolen and documents destroyed. Some of the monastic buildings were turned into stables.
c.1275 Around this time the Custumale Roffensis is written; a copy of collections of rents owed to the priory. The book survives today and informs us of the diocese and the goings on of the priory in the thirteenth-century.
1300 King Edward I passes through Rochester on his way to Canterbury and is recorded as giving seven shillings (35p) at the shrine of St William, and the same again the following day. During his return he gave a further seven shillings at each of the shrines of Ss Paulinus and Ithamar.
1320 The south transept was altered to accommodate the altar of the Virgin Mary.

The Black Death struck England in 1347–1349. From then on there were probably considerably more than twenty monks in the priory.

1340 Around this date 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.

The Black Prince defeats John II of France at Poitiers and takes him prisoner.

1356 The alternate lions and fleurs-de-lis reflect King Edward III’s victories, and assumed sovereignty over the French.
1360 On 2 July John passed through Rochester on his way home and made an offering of 60 crowns (£15) at the Church of St Andrew.
1410 The clerestory and vaulting of the north quire aisle was completed and new Perpendicular Period windows inserted into the nave aisles. Possible preparatory work for this is indicated in 1410–11 by the Bridge Wardens of Rochester who recorded a gift of lead from the Lord Prior.
1421 To settle the differences between the monks and the parishioners a church is built to the north of the cathedral and dedicated to St. Nicholas to serve as the parish church. A doorway was knocked through the western end of the north aisle (since walled up) to allow processions to pass along the north aisle of the cathedral before leaving by the west door.
1470 The great west window is completed.
1490 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
1504 John Fisher is appointed Bishop of Rochester. He figured in the anti-Lutheran policies of King Henry VIII.
1535 Fisher remained true to Rome and for his defence of the Pope was elevated as a cardinal in May. King Henry was angered by these moves and, on 22 June, Cardinal Fisher was beheaded on Tower Green.
1540 Henry VIII visited Rochester on 1 January when he met Ann of Cleves for the first time and was “greatly disappointed”. Whether connected or not, the old Priory of St Andrew was dissolved by royal command later in the year, one of the last monasteries to be dissolved.

The English Reformation.

1542 A new foundation of a Dean and six Canons was established and the cathedral dedicated to Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary.
1547 Nicholas Ridley was consecrated Bishop of Rochester. During his time at Rochester he directed that the altars in the churches of his diocese should be removed and tables put in their place to celebrate the Lord’s Supper.
1548 Bishop Nicholas Ridley helps Thomas Cranmer compile the Book of Common Prayer. In 1550 he was translated to London.

Nicholas Ridley is involved in the plot to place Lady Jane Grey on the throne in preference to the Roman Catholic Queen Mary. The plot failed and Ridley was burnt at the stake for treason on 16 October 1555.

1573 Queen Elizabeth I stays in Rochester for four days, attending divine service in the cathedral on 19 September.
1606 James I & VI and his brother-in-law, Christian IV of Denmark, visited the city, accompanied by his family (Queen Anne and Prince Henry). King James was accommodated at the bishop’s palace and the whole party attended a Sunday service at the cathedral led by Bishop Barlow.
1633 Archbishop Laud visited the cathedral and complained about its general state, in particular that it “suffered much for want of glass in the windows”.
1634 The defects pointed out by Archbishop Laud had been mainly remedied (apart from some of the glass), the excuse being that the backlog had built up due to money (£1,000) being spent on “making of the organs”. Laud accepted this and required completion, noting among other items that the bells and their frame needed to be put into good order
1635 The cathedral is described as: “small and plaine, yet it is very lightsome and pleasant: her [the cathedral’s] quire is neatly adorn’d with many small pillars of marble; her organs though small yet are they rich and neat; her quiristers though but few, yet orderly and decent.” The author then describes the various monuments “divers others also of antiquity, so dismembred, defac’d and abused”.

The English Civil War breaks out.

1642 The cathedral was damaged by Cromwell’s soldiers.
1664 The south nave aisle is recased, an inscription high in the wall records the date.
1670 Most of the north wall of the north nave aisle is rebuilt.
1705 Work started to relead the roof, completed by 1724.
1730 The old ringers’ loft above the quire steps was removed and the crossing vaulted.
1742 Major work was undertaken in the quire, sufficiently disruptive that the dean and chapter used nearby St Nicholas’ Church until 1743.
1749 The steeple is rebuilt
1751 The cathedral’s south quire aisle and transept are giving cause for concern, so they were buttressed, the roof lightened and supporting brickwork placed in the crypt.
1765 The west front towers are rebuilt, the work lasts until 1772.
1791 A new organ is completed.
1825 The South Quire Transept is strengthened by L N Cottingham, diocesan architect until ____. Various windows and arches are opened up and in one of them the tomb of Bishop John de Sheppey is discovered.
1840 The pulpit and bishop’s throne are rebuilt. The removal of the old pulpit revealed the medieval Wheel of Fortune painting to be seen at the eastern end of the choir stalls today. It is said to be the oldest such painting in England. A new ceiling of the crossing, canopy for the tomb of John de Sheppey, cleaning whitewash and the renovation of the crypt all occurred at this time.
1872 Major restoration work was carried out by George Gilbert Scott.
1888 In memory of Dean Scott the quire screen was decorated with the current statues by J. Loughborough Pearson. Pearson also superintended the 1888 restoration of the west front, parts of the facing of which were separating from the core. The flanking towers were restored to the original height and form and the north gable turret rendered as a copy of its partner to the south. During this work the ancient foundations of the original church were uncovered and marked out.
1904 The present tower and spire were dedicated.

World War II breaks out, lasting until 1945.

1939 The spire is used as a lookout during bombing raids and sandbags are built up around the west doors to protect its twelfth-century sculpture.
1998 The precinct beyond the Great West Door was being repaved when further Saxon foundations were uncovered.
2004 For the 1400th anniversary of the diocese a new fresco was painted by Russian icon-painter Sergei Fyodorov.
2014 A new floor and exhibition space is installed in the Crypt. During ground works the east end of Bishop Gundulf’s Early Norman cathedral are uncovered.