8. The Sanctuary

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You’re now standing near a most significant part of the cathedral. This is a sanctuary, where the high altar stands at the cathedrals highest point, signifying the place where people approach being closest to god.

Looking at the altar, we’re facing east, where the light of a new day dawns. It is a place of hope and fresh beginnings. In front of the altar, above you on a long chain, hangs the Sanctuary lamp. A gift from the head or patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem. It’s flame is constantly lit, symbolising hope and eternal life. It’s also small, almost unnoticed, but always there, and so represents God who is waiting for us to stop, to look for him, and to find him.

The altar symbolises the table at which Jesus ate his last meal with his disciples, his group of close followers. This last supper is shown in the stone carving behind the altar table called a rerados, designed by the Victorian architect Gilbert Scott as part of his 1870s restoration of the cathedral. Jesus sits in the centre of this meal, sharing bread and wine with his disciples for the last time. Christians remember Jesus at this meal in a ceremony known as the Eucharist or Holy Communion. Bread and wine a blessed on the altar table and shared. People receive the bread and wine kneeling in front of the rail you see here. Its an expression of the way Christians believe they receive gods life and spiritual nourishment through Jesus.

This Eastern end of the cathedral was rebuilt in the 1180s in the Early English style of gothic architecture, replacing the earlier Romanesque construction of the Norman period. Rochester is the only English Cathedral not to have rows of columns or arches down either side of its sanctuary, which creates a great sense of space here.

The windows were remodeled in the 1870s by the architect Gilbert Scott to make them look more like those he presumed were here in the 1200s. He boldly removed a single large window in the late of perpendicular gothic style, in order to put in three upper Windows. If you look to the right, you can see a row of three elaborate stone seats set against the wall. These are called sedilia and we’reput here in the 1380s for the priest to sit on when they were here conducting the special service of high mass. They’re stilled use for this today.

If you believe in god, you might want to think about where you feel closest to him and why. The following prayer is taken from a book of prayers written in 1558 called The Old Sarum Primer:

God be in my head and in my understanding.

God be in my eyes and in my looking.

God be in my mouth and in my speaking.

God be in my heart and in my thinking.

God be at my end and at my departing.