Freemasonry’s Millennium Gift To The People of Kent
Funded by the Masonic Provinces of East and West Kent to mark the beginning of the third Christian Millennium, the Rochester Cathedral Fresco was dedicated as part of the Cathedral’s 1400th anniversary celebrations.
The packed congregation was led by the then The Right Worshipful The Provincial Grand Master of East Kent, Worshipful Brother John Bonomy OBE, JP., The Right Worshipful the Provincial Grand Master of West Kent, Worshipful Brother Bill Bryen, members of the two Provincial executives and their partners. The Lord Lieutenant of Kent, The Mayor of Medway, The Bishop of Tonbridge, The College of Cannon s, Honorary Priest Vickers, visiting Anglican Clergy and many Kent Freemasons, their families and friends.
The Fresco meets two needs in the present day life of the Cathedral, to introduce into the north nave transept (through which pilgrims have entered the building for centuries) a prominent and understandable Christian symbol and to provide a focal point for the new Baptistry”.
Painted directly onto a special mix of wet plaster over a period of three years by renowned Russian iconographer Sergei Fyodorov, the Fresco was commissioned by the previous Dean, Edward Shotter and the Chapter in 1999 in a traditional eastern and Byzantine style. It is the first Fresco to be painted in an English Cathedral for over eight centuries. It is the process of painting directly onto wet plaster as it is applied that makes a Fresco a Fresco, it becomes part of the wall as opposed to just a wall decoration.
The Fresco depicts the baptism of Jesus by John The Baptist and two religious milestones in Kent history, the sixth century Baptism of King Ethlebert (who provided the land to build the Cathedral) by St. Augustine and the Baptism of 2,000 Anglo-Saxons on the banks of the river Medway just a stones throw away from where the Cathedral now stands.
Forty four year old Moscow born Fyodorov trained at an art college in his native Russia learning his craft from Orthodox monks. His previous work can be seen in the Danilov Monastery in Moscow, Winchester Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. Because the work had to fit in with the daily life of a busy cathedral the artiste often worked through the evening and late into the night so as not to be disturbed. Said the artist “I am delighted with the work, it is a very detailed and precise piece “, With a cheeky grin he added, “the Fresco includes a group of Freemasons but I’ll leave it up to Freemasons themselves to discover whom!
The then Provincial Grand Master of East Kent added “ Kent Freemasons have enjoyed a long and happy association with Rochester Cathedral for over one hundred and fifty years. The decision to fund the Fresco was a fitting and significant way to mark that friendship. Clearly, in this beautiful piece of work, it can now be seen what an important and correct decision that was, for the Fresco is a thing of true beauty which will be enjoyed by the people of Kent as well as visitors to our county for hundreds of years to come and well into the next millennium”
The Fresco is the latest in a long line of Rochester Cathedral projects funded by Kent Freemasons, they include the restoration of Gundulph’s Tower in 1925, two statues above the West Door depicting Bishops Gundulph and John of Canterbury. A stained glass window in the south nave transept commemorating the appointment of the V Rev Bro Samuel Reynolds Hole as Grand Chaplain in 1897 and the support of a chorister at Kings School. The results of other significant contributions made by English Freemasons can be seen in Malmesbury Abbey, Collegiate Church of St Mary, Warwick, York Minster and the Cathedrals of Worcester, Durham and Truro.