6. The North Quire Transept

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You’re standing in an area for quiet reflection, a part of the cathedral where people have come for over 800 years to offer prayer. You’ll see near here over to the right a little stand, where people often stop to say a prayer and light a candle. This is the North Quire Transept, and was created as part of the extension of this eastern end of the cathedral in the 1180s.

Important characters from the cathedrals’ early history appear here in the later Victorian window glass up above us. On the left of the three large windows is Gundulf, the first Norman Bishop of Rochester and builder of this cathedral. He’s holding a model of Rochester Castle, one of his other construction projects. In the middle window is St Paulinus, a much earlier Bishop here in the Saxon 600s.

Finally on the right is Walter de Merton, a Bishop of Rochester who is also famous for having founded Merton College Oxford in 1264. You can see a couple of scholars wearing their traditional mortarboard hats at the bottom of the window.In fact, Walter de Merton is very much still here. If you look below the middle window you can see de Merton’s tomb, with an effigy of him on the top made from a milky coloured stone called alabaster.

While you’re looking at the tomb take a look at the stained glass just behind it to the right. The figure in the long blue robe is William of Perth, the pilgrim who was murdered and made a saint and whose shrine once stood very close to this spot. He’s wearing a scallop shell in his hat, the traditional sign of mediaeval pilgrims.

The candle is a powerful and simple sign of life and prayer it is alive and radiates light and warmth as it’s wax burns away, so often we find it hard to pray to find words to express our deepest thoughts and feelings. But the spirit of God promises to guide us as we simply light a flame. Many people light candles here to think of others especially those who are the victims of violence war and oppression. If you have someone you wish to pray for please do feel free to light a candle on the stand. You may find the following prayer resonates with you as you do so. It’s called the world peace prayer:

Lead us from death to life, from falsehood to truth, from despair to hope, from fear to trust. Lead us from hatred to love, from war to peace, let peace fill our hearts, let peace fill our world, let peace fill our universe.

People often come to pray at this little side area, so if anyone is here now, you might want to come back later rather than disturb them. Otherwise do please step inside. As you do so, notice the old tiles on the floor. These are mediaeval, almost 800 years old, and remind us of the many many people who have sought peace here before us.

This little space is called an oratory. It’s a small chapel originally dedicated to St John, where prayers are said. Around its walls, you can see monuments dedicated to members of the Warner family, including a previous bishop and archdeacon of Rochester at the near end of the oratory, behind glass, is a tomb. It’s remarkable because it still retains some of its original brightly painted colour, the result of it having been walled up for 400 years and only rediscovered in 1825. The man it commemorates is John the Sheppey, Bishop of Rochester in the 1300s. Once all the tombs in this Cathedral would have been as colourful as this.

We’re looking for a very special door. If you stand facing Walter de Merton’s tomb, and look over to your right, you’ll see a small round-topped door tucked into the corner. Go over to take a closer look. It doesn’t look like much from this side, but the door pinned to its other side is one of the oldest doors in England. Analysis of the wood through dendrochronology, the science of working out age from tree ring, suggests the door is over 900 years old.

Sometime after about 1075, this tree was cut down which made up at least part of this door. At that time, trees all over England were being felled to fuel the massive fortress and church building programme of the Normans. Its great architect was a monk called Gundulf, who happened also to be Bishop of Rochester. This door represents part of the original Normal cathedral that Gundulf built here.