The ships forever sailing in Rochester Cathedral

A ship scratched on one of the pillars in the nave of Rochester Cathedral
©Carole Tyrrell

Last month’s Symbol of the Month was devoted to the ship.  It’s a central symbol of Christianity and recently, on a visit to Rochester Cathedral, I found more evidence of this in the medieval graffiti etched on several of its pillars.

They are in the nave of the Cathedral and consist of at least a dozen scratched images of sailing ships.  They look almost as if a child has drawn them and you have to look very closely to see them.   Th eone above is the only one that I could find easily.

According to the Cathedral’s information board these were often drawn by :

‘…..crew members and sea captains with proximity to an altar, image or shrine dedicated to St Nicholas, the patron saint of those in peril on the sea. At times of trouble on a sea voyage, such as storm, a vow could be made to St Nicholas that, if they survived, a votive offering would be made in thanks, sometimes in the form of a model ship of wax and wood. Some of these models survive in coastal churches today but at Rochester this graffiti is the only surviving trace of this once common tradition.;

It goes onto add:

‘……..All recorded designs are located on the south face of the pillar, (this) may indicate the suspected  position of an altar or shrine to St Nicholas in the south nave aisle in the 12th of 13th centuries.’

 

There is a church dedicated to St Nicholas adjacent to the Cathedral but this is now the offices of the Board of Education of the Diocese of Rochester.  According to their website, there was a shrine to the saint within the Cathedral at which people worshipped until the 15th century. It was consecrated on 18 December 1423.   The current church dates from the 17th century with 19th century restoration.

So these little ships, symbols of protection, will sail on a sea of stone for as long as the Cathedral stands.  Let’s hope that all of the crews and captains, they who go down to the sea in ships, who created them came home safely back to port.

©Text and photographs Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.

References and further reading

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Nicholas_Church,_Rochester

https://www.kentarchaeology.org.uk/01/03/ROCN.htm

 

 

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