Rochester, Ancient See of
ROCHESTER, ANCIENT SEE OF
The smallest and least important of the medieval English dioceses, located in West Kent, England; its cathedral church is dedicated to St. Andrew. It is the oldest suffragan see of the province of canterbury, founded by augustine of canterbury, who consecrated its first bishop, justus (of canterbury), in 604. The cathedral chapter was composed of secular canons until the Norman Conquest. In 676 the original cathedral was severely damaged by marauding Mercians, and the incumbent bishop, Putta, fled from the diocese and never returned. It is indeed likely that he became the first bishop of here ford. Most of the Anglo–Saxon bishops were undistinguished since the see was relatively poor and under the patronage, if not actual lordship, of the archbisbops of Canterbury. The last Saxon bishop, Siward (1058–75), unlike some of his kind, was allowed to remain in office until his death, when he was succeeded by Bishop Gundulf (1077–1108), who began the new (present) cathedral on the old Saxon foundation, and replaced the secular canons by benedictine monks, from whom a significant number of later bishops were drawn. The cathedral was consecrated in 1130, but was damaged by fire at the time. Ultimately in 1343 the choir was rebuilt and the central tower added, though the cathedral remains to this day largely Norman in appearance. Most of the post–Norman bishops except Arnulf of Beauvais (1115–24), a student of lanfranc and historian of Rochester (Patrologia Latina v. 163), were undistinguished; the few who were outstanding, e.g., Bp. John alcock (1472–76), were generally translated elsewhere. Most were regular clergy, primarily Benedictines or friars. In the 16th century the diocese had its most notable bishop and saint, John fisher, who was both a scholar and a patron of scholars, a person of international reputation for piety and learning; in Holbein's drawing one sees a man of infinite human compassion and concern. He was executed under henry viii in 1535. Henry re–founded Rochester as a diocese of the Church of England when he replaced the monastic chapter with a dean and secular canons.
Bibliography: a. i. pearman, Rochester (Diocesan Histories; London 1897). r. c. fowler, in The Victoria History of the County of Kent, ed. w. page, v. 2 (London 1926) 121–126. r. gardiner, The Story of Rochester Cathedral (Blandford Forum, England 1978).
[h. s. reinmuth, jr./eds.]