City of London Churches
October 30, 2002 4:49 AM   Subscribe

City of London Churches 'The ‘Square Mile’ that constitutes The City of London is a world financial centre where 300,000 people work and nearly 500 foreign banks have an office. Less well known is that amongst the largely uninspired office blocks are hidden around 50 current or former churches and other places of worship, either complete, converted into offices, or in ruins. Once there were nearly 100 parish churches within the City boundaries but the Great Fire of London, the migration of residents to the suburbs, and Hitler’s bombs have done most to reduce that figure. Many of the surviving churches are, famously, Wren churches. After the Great Fire he had the unique opportunity of designing over 50 churches, and he gave full rein to his imagination ... '
A guide to 55 churches in London's financial district; best seen on a weekend, when the City is virtually deserted. Whilst the majority are Wren churches, there are some exceptions - St Bartholomew the Great, which dates back to Norman times; the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue, the oldest surviving synagogue in Great Britain; and the Dutch Church, which was drawn by van Gogh and important to the Huguenot community. Particularly worth a visit is St. Bride's, the journalists' church; the design of the wedding cake is based on the shape of its spire.
posted by plep (28 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
St Edmund the King is one of the most peaceful places I know, right in the heart of London. If you can't make it to London, it's well worth taking a look at the monsters of Wall Street and other gargoyles in New York City.
posted by plep at 4:51 AM on October 30, 2002

As soon as I saw the first four words of this post I knew who wrote it, plep. For some reason, that little link to St. Bride's, which I first saw on your site a few months ago, made such an impression on me. I think about St. Bride's now whenever I see a wedding cake, which is often; I work in a flower shop and the florists do a lot of fresh flower cake decorating. I'm only disappointed that St. Bride's itself doesn't play up that wedding cake connection more - it's such a fascinating little bit of trivia. Or perhaps they do? I'd love to read more on that, or at least see more photographs of those gorgeous spires!
posted by iconomy at 4:59 AM on October 30, 2002

They're certainly proud of the connection, but like most of these churches, they're not primarily geared up as tourist sites ... which is part of their attraction - little known treasures of London. There are very clear views of the spire from different parts of central London (e.g. from the top of the Millennium Bridge on a clear day).
posted by plep at 5:06 AM on October 30, 2002

A page about St Bride's, which includes a paragraph on the wedding cake connection.
posted by plep at 5:12 AM on October 30, 2002

Secret of a good FPP?

posted by jpburns at 5:15 AM on October 30, 2002

Ah, nice. See also the related: one of my favorite short stories.
posted by neustile at 5:34 AM on October 30, 2002

Thank you for the bonus link. That's a beautiful image of the spire. I may have to come to London just to see this for myself.
posted by iconomy at 6:00 AM on October 30, 2002

I was in London a couple of weeks for a concert at the Barbican, and had a couple of hours to kill before my train so I went to the city to take some pictures and was intrigued by the number of places of worship jostling for position with the city's new showcase architecture. This is therefore timely reading. Thanks.
posted by chill at 6:06 AM on October 30, 2002

Great post. (FPP could be a shorter, but great content.)
posted by eriko at 6:13 AM on October 30, 2002

I really enjoy St. Stephen Wallbrook. It's perfecly proportioned, and IMHO is the best attempt in centuries to put a dome on top of a Greek cross plan. Plus the altar was sculpted by Henry Moore, and the rector founded The Samaritans. (you can see the original phone on a plinth in the chancel.)
posted by Vidiot at 6:44 AM on October 30, 2002

(plus it's just down the road from Liverpool Street Station, home of Moshi Moshi Sushi, my favorite conveyor-belt sushi bar.)
posted by Vidiot at 6:48 AM on October 30, 2002

Interesting post Plep. It'll give me something new to do next time I'm in London.

Secret of a good FPP?

No, not brevity necessarily. Something interesting, thought provoking and which may not be among the regular browsing matter of the average MeFite.
I'd rather a long FPP with quality links and interesting reading matter (which this is) than no end of CNN articles.
I'd also point you to your own comment, here regarding commenting on the subject of the post, rather than the presentation.
posted by Markb at 7:02 AM on October 30, 2002

interesting and educating post, as i learned that only one of nicholas hawksmoor's churches is located on the city area. i became fascinated of the myths and mysteries surrounding this pupil of wren after reading peter ackroyd´s novel hawksmoor - and of course the from hell- series where hawksmoor´s architecture have a peculiar role.
posted by inkeri at 7:36 AM on October 30, 2002

Once you've admired the City churches, head East for a more disconcerting experience. The East End churches of Nicholas Hawksmoor are widely believed to have occult inspiration, being laid out, so it is said, in the sign of Set. They are also intimately associated with the Ripper killings. More at Barbelith.
posted by grahamwell at 7:44 AM on October 30, 2002

I just returned from London and wish I had known about these. We were there only five days and did the whirlwind tour of the city. I will definitely make a point of seeing these on the next trip. Thanks for a very informative and interesting post.f
posted by janespeed at 8:34 AM on October 30, 2002

plep, this is excellent..

Thank You!
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 8:52 AM on October 30, 2002

inkeri, St Mary Woolnoth is there to remind you that 1 Poultry looks like shite, as you emerge from the labyrinth of Bank. And St Bride's remains the journos' church, in spite of Fleet Street having moved out east. After all, Reuters is still next-door. It was touching that Daniel Pearl's memorial was held there, in an ecumenical service. I doubt the Kaddish has been recited too many times in a Wren church, but I'm sure the old man would approve.

(My personal favourite is St Benet's on Paul's Wharf, barely visible as you're dashing down Q. Vic street. Most people see it now when walking between St Paul's and the Tate Modern across the wobbly bridge. Nothing like the other Wren churches, and a little gem.)
posted by riviera at 10:12 AM on October 30, 2002

Howdy, plep, this was the first thing I saw this morning on Meta, great information.

Thanks for this post as it will be my sanctuary thread for the day.
posted by thomcatspike at 10:33 AM on October 30, 2002

Well, you know I'm not going to complain about the length, plep--nice job! I love this sort of post.
posted by y2karl at 2:29 PM on October 30, 2002

I concur with much of the above and simply wish to add further positive feedback. A nice little slice of something else.
posted by nthdegx at 2:43 PM on October 30, 2002

Glad you liked it. The hidden sides of London (as with any great city) are some of the most interesting ... (and actually, I don't mind being called up about the length either. Thing is, the computer I posted from is one I don't use that often, and it looked fine in preview; having seen it since on another screen, I can see the issue. But I'll watch that next time ;) ).
posted by plep at 4:40 PM on October 30, 2002

I go to Church in the City (St. Helens, Bishopsgate if you're interested) which also happens to use some of the other Churches mentioned on the list. It's opened up my eyes a bit to some of the amazing diversity we've got in such a small space. Great site, super link.
posted by nedrichards at 4:46 PM on October 30, 2002

It's great that these wonderful historical churches have their own informative websites for anyone who wants to plan a visit. I only found out from the links plep posted (thanks, plep). On my recent short stay in London in August, I only managed to visit St. Martin-in-the-Fields, which has a very nice crypt cafe and evening concerts on some days. I certainly will like to visit some of the other "hidden" churches mentioned in this post on my next visit to London.
posted by taratan at 7:22 PM on October 30, 2002

Plep, where in the world do you get these great links of yours? :)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 7:30 PM on October 30, 2002

St. Bride's is one of my favorites. The last time I was there they were preparing for a wedding. I tried to duck out, but the vicar (or whatever you call him) saw my friend and I and offered to let us check out the crypt below. They've found remains of a Roman church underneath it, and you can walk through the excavations and see the stuff they've dug up. Be sure and ask about it next time you're there.
posted by web-goddess at 10:36 PM on October 30, 2002

For something different (but just as impressive) :-
The Shree Swaminarayan Mandir, Neasden. Check out the Diwali celebrations.
The Peace Pagoda in Battersea Park.
Southwark Cathedral. Sometimes overlooked. Stand on London Bridge and you can see two cathedrals (Southwark and St. Paul's) in the same skyline. (Is there anywhere else in the world where you can do this?)
'The London Jamme Masjid, on the corner of Fournier Street, is now a mosque, although previously a synagogue and originally built in 1744 as a Huguenot church! '
posted by plep at 1:02 AM on October 31, 2002

Then there's the Temple of Mithras. Maybe not much to look at, but still interesting.
posted by plep at 1:06 AM on October 31, 2002

I'm sitting here looking out at St Ethelburga's on Bishopsgate. St Ethelburga is not the patron saint of fast food, but the church did have a house and shop tacked on the front.

Built in 1390, it was largely destroyed in 1993 by an IRA explosion that killed one person and injured many others. It will soon reopen as a Centre for Reconciliation and Peace.
posted by BinkyF at 3:53 AM on October 31, 2002

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