St Bartholomew The Great London Reviews
One of London's oldest churches Sep 21, 2014
Close as it is to the world famous St Paul's Cathedral (it's probably not advisable to visit St Bartholomew's straight after that iconic place), St Bartholomew the Great Priory is an oft-overlooked little gem that anyone with a passing interest in both the history of London and places of worship should seriously consider visiting when in London.
One of the few remaining medieval churches in the city - most others were destroyed by the Great Fire of London in 1666 - St Bart's is tucked away on a quiet little street near its namesake Hospital (within whose grounds you can find the smaller St Bartholomew the Less). Still an active place of worship, the extensive opening hours mean there's ample opportunity to visit around service times, and the fact you'll only be sharing the space with a handful of other visitors at a time make it a quiet, contemplative and reflective place to visit.
Most of what you see dates from the Norman era, with later additions enhancing the visual impact. The architecture of both the exterior and the interior are as impressive as any place of worship you'll find in London - whilst it can't compete with St Paul's scale, it certainly can with some of the intricate details. Particularly notable are the tomb of Rahere, founder of the church, the bust of Edward Cooke which, as tradition had it, would cry in wet weather (central heating has put paid to this happening nowadays) and the baptismal font, which dates from 1405.
The pillars of the church effectively muffle the echoes of the church and, combined with the high windows, create a suitably smoky, subdued atmosphere. It's a bit brighter in the Lady Chapel at the rear of the building, where you can also see an excellent DVD on the history of the church. You can also read about it in the cloister - did you know, for example, that William Wallace was executed just outside the church, or that Peasents Revolt leader Wat Tyler was briefly dragged in to the church courtyard after being wounded (he would later die) in nearby Smithfield?
The cloister also has a nice little cafe - with a fully licensed bar no less. There are no toilets within the church, but there are some free public ones opposite the gate: and believe me, free public toilets in London are not all that common. Also nearby are monuments to William Wallace and Protestant martyrs burned during the reign of Mary I - this place has quite a grisly history! - and the Golden Boy of Pye Corner, a statue that marks the limits of the Great Fire of London, which shows you just how perilously close the church came to being lost during that disaster.
Part of the list More alternative London highlights
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