9. The South Quire Transept

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There’s an elaborately carved doorway in this area. When Hamo de Hythe was Bishop of Rochester in the mid-1300s, he undertook a good deal of rebuilding work in the cathedral. This doorway is his most impressive legacy, and he’s even in it. He’s the tiny naked figure at the top of the arch. You might have to look carefully to spot him. This little figure represents his soul rising from Earth up to Heaven.

The mediaeval monks who lived in the priory next door used this doorway as an entrance into the cathedral. It was convenient for their night-time services, as it linked directly to their dormitory beyond. Today, it leads instead to the cathedral’s library, called the chapter library.

The particular gothic style used here is called decorated, and you can see why, as the carving is incredibly intricate. But perhaps the most interesting thing about this doorway is that like many of the features of the cathedral is packed full of symbolism. in this case however, the symbolism might make you feel a bit uncomfortable.

To mediaeval audience the large figure of a woman on the left ecclesia represented Christianity. The woman opposite her, synagoga, represents Judaism, but not in a very positive light. Synagoga is blindfold, broken staff and downcast tablets of the law symbolise the Jews turning away from or being blind to gods true path, meaning the true path according to Christians. Today it appears as a shocking image of intolerance once it’s meaning becomes clear, and it reminds us how easy it is to see prejudice but not stop to confront it.

On the walls of the left of the doorway is a memorial to a man who was also concerned about the social injustices of his day, the author Charles Dickens. Look to the left of Hamo de Hythe’s doorway and you’ll see a large brass plaque on the wall. This is a memorial to Charles Dickens, who lived near Rochester and knew and liked the town very well. So well, that he frequently borrowed its streets and buildings as locations for his novels, including the cathedral and its grounds. He even wished to be buried in the cathedral graveyard at the foot of the castle wall. However, he had become such a national icon when he died that he was actually laid to rest in Westminster Abbey in London. A memorial service is held here each year to commemorate his life. The cathedral’s starring role in Dickens work is in his final unfinished novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

The very day before he died, Dickens was still working on the book and wrote a description of sunlight in the cathedral: ‘changes of glorious light penetrate into the cathedral, subdue its earthy odor, and preach the resurrection and the life. The cold stone tombs of centuries ago grow warm, and flecks of brightness dart into the sternest marble corners of the building, fluttering there like wings’.