Crypt at 1,400-year-old cathedral turned into Covid-19 testing centre

Going for a Covid-19 test may now take you to an unexpected place – the crypt at England’s second oldest cathedral.

Rochester Cathedral, on a site dating back to AD 604, has been set up as a testing centre with support from the military.

It comes as Medway in Kent, where the historic place of worship has stood for 1,400 years, faces some of the highest case numbers in the country.

The whole of the county was recently placed under Tier 3 restrictions in an effort to battle rising infections.

A number of cathedrals nationwide have volunteered to act as vaccination centres.

Rochester Cathedral joins Medway’s list of targeted community testing centres, being run in partnership with the military.

Rochester Cathedral
Rochester Cathedral

Residents are encouraged to book a symptom-free test, designed to help identify those who unknowingly have the virus.

Medway district currently has the second highest infection rate in England, with 590.2 new cases per 100,000 people in the week to December 4.

More than 1,640 new cases were recorded in those seven days, according to analysis by the PA news agency.

Elsewhere in Kent, Swale has the highest rate in England at 604.3 new cases per 100,000 while Thanet is in third place.

The Dean of Rochester, the Very Rev Philip Hesketh, said: “In a time of emergency, we are glad we can be of service to our community remembering Jesus’s words that he came not to be served but to serve, and that ‘people might have life in all its fullness’.

“We are glad to be working alongside the Royal Engineers, as well as the armed forces, as Rochester Cathedral is their spiritual home and we have had a long and close relationship with them over many centuries.”

Lieutenant Ben Williams, troop commander at the testing site, said his group feels “hugely proud” to be working out of the cathedral.

Covid-19 test centre at Rochester Cathedral
Covid-19 test centre at Rochester Cathedral

He added: “There’s a big connection between the Royal Engineers and the cathedral; our memorial plaque is in the nave and the cathedral’s builder Bishop Gundulph was the first military engineer, so to be here nearly a millennium later in the fight against coronavirus is a real privilege.

“Medway is home turf for the Royal Engineers so it’s only right that we are back here supporting the council response to Covid-19.

“Quite a few of our team are local too, myself included, and it’s not often in the military that you have an opportunity to serve the community that raised you.”