London Day 5: City of Churches
Before the Great Fire of 1666, London’s original square mile included over 100 parish churches, giving a sense for the incredible volume of residents conducting daily life in this tightly compressed space. Although many of the original building elements have since been destroyed, the City of London remains packed with churches of various periods. A walking tour through the neighborhood provides a hands-on primer in the multi-layered history of London’s ecclesiastical architecture. We had the pleasure of just such an introduction Thursday morning, with renowned architectural historian Peter Guillery as our guide. We covered more than four hundred years in just three hours, including visits to each of the below:
St. Katharine Cree, 1628-31, with south-west tower circa 1504
St. Mary Woolnoth, 1716-27, Nicholas Hawksmoor, architect; restored 1875-6 by William Butterfield
St. Mary Aldermary, 1679-82, office of Christopher Wren, restored 1876 by Tress and Inness
Sandwiched between the secular buildings of London’s ever-changing landscape, many of the church exteriors can’t be viewed well from the street, belying the expansive, ornate interiors we would step into:
Interior shots of St. Katharine Cree, St. Mary Woolnoth, and St. Mary Aldermary
Multiple examples pointed to the prolific career of Sir Christopher Wren, London’s great post-fire architect. Peter emphasized Wren’s abilities not only as an architect but as a mediator and master of compromise, qualities which allowed him to accomplish so much work in his lifetime.
Interior of St. Stephen Walbrook, 1672-80, Christopher Wren, architect
We also enjoyed spotting some fun quirks of London church interiors:
Traditionally, the Lord Mayor of London would lay his sword on a sword rest like these on visiting a church, to signal that he came in peace. (From St. Botolph Aldgate and St. Mary Aldermary)
This list of rectors installed in the vestibule of St. Botolph Aldgate emphasizes the amazing longevity of London’s parishes.
In the afternoon, we made our way to Buckingham Palace for a special private tour of the royal collections, from paintings by Van Dyck and Titian to furniture by Riesener. Photography is not allowed in the palace–you will have to take our word that it was a spectacular, once-in-a-lifetime experience. We were mesmerized!
The group outside Buckingham Palace, before our tour. We are in for a treat!
By Emelie Gevalt, WPAMC Class of 2017