Rochester Cathedral Pilgrimage in a Day

SE England & London, 1 day, 1-Day Cathedral

Rochester Cathedral Pilgrimage in a Day – 4 x 1-day routes.

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Justus Way (9.5 miles) from Aylesford Priory

St Justus was the first bishop of Rochester, sent by St Augustine of Canterbury to establish a cathedral at the other end of the kingdom of Kent in AD604. He subsequently became the 4th Archbishop of Canterbury. It is thought that Justus may have travelled from Canterbury to Rochester via Aylesford and then by boat on the River Medway. 

The Justus Way starts at Aylesford Priory and follows the banks of the Medway before ascending over the North Downs ridge south of Rochester, with the final section along the riverbank again to the Cathedral founded by St Justus – part of the outline of Justus’ original building can be seen outside the west front. 

Ithamar Way (11 miles) St Mary’s, Upchurch

St Ithamar was Bishop of Rochester in the mid 7th century and a key figure in early English Christianity. He was a Saxon, born in Kent, and was the first English bishop i.e. all previous bishops had been from the Roman missionaries sent by Gregory the Great or Irish missionaries in the Celtic tradition, whereas Ithamar was Saxon. We know very little about him, not even his real name – Ithamar was the name he assumed on his consecration as a bishop (Ithamar was one of the sons of Aaron) – but he was clearly a popular figure for pilgrims to Rochester and many miracles were reported at his shrine in the Cathedral. 

The Ithamar Way begins in Kent’s other diocese, the Diocese of Canterbury – at St Mary’s Church, Upchurch. The first part of the route follows the Saxon Shore Way (a long-distance path that traces the Roman shoreline, onto which Saxon invaders began to arrive from the 3rd century) and then proceeds through the Medway towns of Gillingham and Chatham, through parks and urban sprawl, past naval and military sites, eventually approaching the Cathedral from the south east through The Vines, the site of the ancient monastic vineyard. 

William of Hoo Way (12 miles) from St Helen’s, Cliffe

William of Hoo was the sacrist of Rochester at the turn of the 13th century and is a significant figure in the rebuilding of Rochester Cathedral, as its importance as a place of pilgrimage increased – there is a statue of William of Hoo on the Quire screen. Little is known about him, except that he originated from the Hoo Peninsula, but his architectural legacy remains in the sacred space of the Cathedral to this day. 

The William of Hoo Way starts at St Helen’s Church in Cliffe (founded by King Offa in the 8th century) on the northern side of the Hoo Peninsula and proceeds past nature reserves, farmland, industry, churches and castles (including Hoo St Werburgh and Upnor Castle), with spectacular views of Rochester from the northern approach to Rochester Bridge. 

Gundulf Way (15 miles from Malling Abbey, or 7 miles from Bishop’s Palace, Halling) 

Gundulf was Bishop of Rochester from 1077 to 1108 – he was reputed to have been a man of holiness, prodigious administrative ability and a prolific builder. He was sent by Archbishop Lanfranc from the Abbey at Bec to ‘increase the monastic influence in the Church’. He founded the monastery of St Andrew at Rochester and began building the present Norman Cathedral and Rochester Castle. He also established Malling Abbey as a Benedictine nunnery – it was revived in 1916 and remains an Anglican Benedictine religious community to this day. He was responsible for building the Tower of London and is recognised as the founder of the Corps of Royal Engineers. 

The Gundulf Way starts at Malling Abbey, founded by Gundulf c1090. The route climbs to Great Buckland on the North Downs via the villages of Ryarsh and Birling. Pilgrims can either continue along the North Downs, or take a detour down to the village of Halling to see the ruins of the Bishop’s Palace (which is also believed to have been established by Gundulf). After returning to the North Downs, the route eventually descends to the bank of the River Medway, where, hidden amongst the industrial, retail and leisure developments, is the Temple Manor, built by the Knights Templar in the 13th century – a comfortable lodging for the more influential pilgrims and travelling dignitaries. Finally, Gundulf’s castle and cathedral are approached via Rochester Bridge. 

Circular Routes (for people who need to drive in their car, and don’t want to use public transport during the COVID crisis):
You can follow the Justus Way in reverse from the Cathedral coming down into Peters Village, then leave the Justus Way and go over Peters Bridge to Halling to the Bishop’s Palace site (follow the light blue line on the Google Map), then join up with the Gundulf Way going up the hill then back into Rochester.
OR for the William of Hoo Way, you can walk from Rochester to Hoo, and then at St Werburgh Church, Hoo, turn back and walk along the Saxon Shore Line path back to Rochester.

Please check the cathedrals services schedule if you are planning to attend a service as part of your pilgrimage. N.B. on Saturdays during term time, Evensong is either sung by a visiting choir or is replaced by said Evening Prayer, or there may be a special event taking place – please check the services schedule for details.

If you are interested in making a longer pilgrimage related to Rochester, you might consider one of the following: 

  • The Augustine Camino is a 70 mile pilgrimage route which starts at Rochester Cathedral and goes via Aylesford and Canterbury to the shrine of St Augustine of Canterbury in Ramsgate.
  • Southwark to Canterbury Cathedral. There are many pilgrimage routes to Canterbury. Pilgrims following the traditional route in The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer would have stopped at Rochester Cathedral along the way, in particular to pray at the shrine of St William of Perth, the pilgrim-martyr, whose shrine was so popular (being on the route to the shrine of St Thomas Becket), that it paid for the rebuilding of Rochester Cathedral and, legend has it, was the second most visited shrine in England after Canterbury. 
  • The Paulinus Way is a 65 mile route from Todmoren to York Minster commemorating the life and deeds of St Paulinus, missionary to Northumbria and first bishop of York. He was later translated to be bishop of Rochester and died there in 644AD. His shrine in Rochester Cathedral attracted pilgrims until its destruction at the Reformation and was reputedly covered in silver.

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