Work to provide a secure exhibition space for the display of Rochester Cathedral’s collections began in 2014, funded in part by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The first exhibition was held in Bishop Gundulf’s original crypt in October 2016. The Rochester Bridge Trust is delighted to be working with the Cathedral to mount the third exhibition to be held in this wonderful space.
Work first began to construct the crypt in the 1080s under Bishop Gundulf. What remains of Gundulf’s work, the two westernmost bays of the present day crypt, represents some of the earliest surviving Romanesque works in England. A more substantial phase of construction began after the 1179 fire and is still visible today.
There were seven distinct altars in the crypt, six of the dedications are known, to St Katherine, St Mary Magdalene, St Michael, Holy Trinity, St Edmund and
St Denis. Unfortunately the exact location of each one has been lost. You will find a piscina (for washing hands) in two of the chapel remains and in one a hole in the floor in which communion cloths and vestments may have been burned in case of spillage in the preparation and giving of communion.
The whole crypt shows increasing architectural and decorative sophistication as you move eastwards through the space.
The crypt’s principal surviving architectural feature is the twenty free-standing columns. The columns are positioned under the ratios found in ‘sacred’ or ‘symbolic’ geometry.
The crypt would have been well lit, there were three windows in each terminal wall, four in each side wall, and more windows still in each of the crypt’s three chapels. The floor would likely have been tiled and almost all the walls would have been painted in a masonry pattern.The space known as the Penitence Chamber is being used during this exhibition as Langdon’s Den to house educational activities for children. The main access to the chamber was through a door to the Gothic staircase on the left. It may have been used to lock up erring monks so that they could take time to reflect and repent their sins. Within this space can be seen the remains of steps from the Norman phase of the Cathedral, which were rediscovered in 2014 during the recent renovation works.