13. The Lady Chapel

< 12. The Cloister Garth          Index

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This soaring music seems to match the soaring windows, so full of hope and joy. What we see in this area is the result of rebuilding around 1490, when a new chapel was created here. This is known as the Lady Chapel, as it was dedicated to St. Mary, mother of Jesus.

The architecture here has a very distinctive gothic style known as perpendicular and features strong vertical lines with towering window arches, very thin stonework around the windows, and an emphasis on like this and space. In fact, this chapel, at a mere 500 years old, is the newest of the major pieces of building in the cathedral’s history.

If you look back through to the nave, you can see how different this part of the building is that built centuries before. You can see the Early English pointed arches as well as the chunky columns and rounded arches of the Norman period.

Back in the chapel here are features of a much more recent design, the stained glass, which is from the early 1900s, and the modern altar, seating and tapestries. These layers of history remind us of the mix of tradition and change that marks the life of the cathedral today.

On the foundations of this long past, still thrive the living place of worship, prayer and encounter with God. The stained glass tells the story of Jesus through his mother’s eyes, following a sequence from left to right.

In the far left window Jesus is born in a stable. You can see the animals of the stable behind the baby Jesus with angels and shepherds around him.

In the next window three kings are shown bringing gifts for the infant Jesus. The next window depicts Mary taking Jesus to the temple.

Moving around to the other wall, the story fast forwards to the adult Jesus, dying on the cross. The final scene shows Jesus after he rose from the grave, ascending to heaven.

If you look back to the longer wall under the windows you can see a set of small tapestries with abstract designs. These were made by Bobby Cox in 1991 and evoke various points of meeting between the earthly and the divine. The patterns, colours and textures are all contrasted to suggest this sense of different people, ideas and forces meeting together.

Have a final look around you and take a moment to absorb everything you’ve seen and heard and felt here today. Please do take a seat in the Lady Chapel or out in the nave if you wish.

We’ve seen how even after the upheavals of 1400 years, this fantastic building is still the setting for daily worship, and a vibrant mission that extends into the city of Rochester and beyond. It endures as a place where all are welcome, whether they come here to worship, to seek God, or just to explore these inspiring buildings.

Whatever brought you here today, I hope that what you’ve discovered helps you to look at the cathedral with fresh eyes, perhaps exploring the buildings many real and symbolic doorways has opened up a new doorway inside you to a new understanding of yourself and maybe even your relationship with God.

I leave you now with some words from the poet TS Eliot: ‘We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time’.