Citywalk: Churches of London

There seems to be an abundance of churches in London. The square mile area of the City of London alone counts over 40 churches. As I had planned for a citywalk after visiting the Tower of London, I armed myself with Google Maps and an umbrella to enjoy this friday afternoon.

As the name states, All Hallows at the Tower is a must-see stop right next to the Tower. This small church is one of the oldest in London, it was built in the Ango-Saxon era in 675 on a former Roman site. It has seen many alterations, mainly in the Romanesque style. It suffered quite some destruction in WWII, as many of the churches in this area. A large part of the building has been rebuilt, like the roof.

Old walls and original Anglo-Saxon arch, and new in the interior of All Hallows ©MedievalMonologues
Anglo-Saxon foundation upon a Roman paveway at the crypt ©MedievalMonologues
Upper half of a Celtic cross, found after WWII, dated to 900AD ©MedievalMonologues

Located a little further westward in the City is St. Dunstan-in-the-East and is one of the most beautiful sites, perhaps more so because it is hidden between modern buildings and is a small haven in the bustling City. Built in ca. 1100 as gothic cathedral, it suffered severe damage in the Great Fire of London in 1666. After being almost completely destroyed by bombs in WWII, it is more of a ruin than a church. Only the tower remained intact. Nowadays it has been transformed to a public garden. If I was working in the City, I would be taking lunch here everyday. It is beautiful!

Weathered walls and arches of St. Dunstan-in-the-east ©MedievalMonologues

I had some time to spare before I needed to board the Eurostar back to Holland on Sunday. Since the weather was sunny, I went for a stroll. At an ideal spot for travelers, St. Pancras Old Church is located at a 10 minute walk behind the station. Situated on a small hill in park this little church was basking in the sun. Although it is inconclusive when it was exactly built, it has it’s origins in the dedication to the Roman martyr St. Pancras and was most likely founded before the Norman conquest. As it has been added on, rebuilt and expanded many times, the interior is a bit of an odd collection of styles, but the exterior is most charming.

St. Pancras Old Church ©MedievalMonologues

Off course, today I show you only a few examples. I hope to visit London many times and see more of the churches and cathedrals it has to offer. What surprised me is that many are still active churches in the London communities. People are really proud of the buildings and make good effort to preserve them. They have been there for a 1000 years, and hopefully will still be there in the future.

>> If you are on a budget, citywalks are an ideal way to explore London. There is so much to see! The area of the City of London offers a lot to explore by foot: many churches, St. Paul’s, gardens, Leadenhall Market, Guildhall and Guildhall Museum, the Monument, and the Thames. <<

Gothic gem at London’s southbank: Southwark Cathedral

During my stay in London I visited several churches, but Southwark Cathedral deserves a dedicated blog. This beautiful building is hemmed in between several very modern buildings and streets, but is not to be overlooked by medieval history fans.

Officially known today as the Cathedral and Collegiate Church of St. Saviour and St. Mary Overie, it stands at the oldest crossing point at the Thames. References go back as far as the Domesday Book of 1086, although it is believed there was a community on this site long before that in the 7th century.

In 1106 it was refounded by the Bishop of Winchester as an Augustinian priory. It was dedicated to St. Mary, and later became known as St. Mary Overie (‘over the river’). During the reign of Henry VIII the building was rented to a congregation, after the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1539). In the 17th century a group of merchants bought the church from King James I for a mere £800. It served as a parrish not only to merchants, but also courtiers, actors, craftsmen and the (in)famous ladies of the Southwark brothels. In 1905 it became Southwark Cathedral and now consists of 300 parishes in the London area.

If it ever was the goal to design a Gothic cathedral to capture the divine light, it was certainly achieved here. Today I was lucky enough to see the winter sunrays cast a beautiful light through the arches. After I was welcomed by a lovely lady of the church and purchased a £1 photograph permit, I was captivated by the lightfall. Simply divine, isn’t it?

Beautiful lightfall shines through the Southwark Cathedral arcs ©MedievalMonologues

In the north choir aisle you will find a wooden effigy for a knight, carved in minute detail. Usually carved from stone, it is similar to effigies of the period of ca. 1280 considering his mail coat and coif. His identity is unknown, but it could be a member of the Warenne family who had strong ties to the church. This lonely knight’s effigy is in excellent condition.

Wooden effigy for a knight ca. 1280 ©MedievalMonologues

The most famous resident to have lived in Southwark has his own memorial: William Shakespeare. Even dear Will is happy that it’s almost spring again. He is holding fresh twigs in his hand and is contemplating a sonnet on summer, untill he can compare thee to a summer’s day and rough winds shake the darling buds of May.

William Shakespeare memorial in Southwark Cathedral ©MedievalMonologues

This was a £1 well spent, it was a very good day for taking photographs, even with my phone. I would like to invest sometime in a real camera, but that’s going to cost me a lot more than £1!

>> Take the tube to London Bridge station and walk through Borough Market – a fabulous and busy foodmarket. After your visit take a stroll along the Southbank area to see great Thames views and landmarks. <<

Southwark Cathedral as seen from the garden against the blue winter sky © MedievalMonologues