London has a rich and turbulent history, withstanding fires, plagues, rebellions and reformations.
Amongst such unsettling disarray, Londoners have always sought peace and solace in the many churches dotted around the city.
Here are 10 of the most magnificent:
1. St Martin-in-the-Fields
Although this church stands prominently on the north-east corner of Trafalgar Square, it was originally built in Greenfields. The medieval church was rebuilt by Henry VIII in 1542, in an effort to prevent plague victims passing through his palace at Whitehall.
The current neoclassical design is the work of James Gibbs, dating from 1722-26. George I took a particular interest in the building of the church. So delighted was he with the result that he gave £100 to be distributed among the workmen.
2. Westminster Cathedral
Westminster Cathedral is the Mother Church for Roman Catholics in England and Wales.
The site, a marshy wasteland around Westminster, has been home to markets, a maze, pleasure gardens, bull-baiting rings and a prison. It was acquired by the Catholic church in 1884. The neo-Byzantine design was described by Betjeman as ‘a masterpiece in striped brick and stone’.
3. St Paul’s Cathedral
St Paul’s Cathedral sits at the highest point of the City of London. At 111m tall, Sir Christopher Wren’s Baroque dome has dominated the London skyline for over 300 years. Built between 1675 and 1710, it was a central focus for rebuilding the city after the Great Fire of 1666.
Although the Baroque style was deemed to have an air of Popery which was decisively ‘un-English’, the lawyer-poet James Wright probably spoke on behalf of many of his contemporaries when he wrote,
‘Without, within, below, above, the eye is filled with unrestrained delight’.
St Paul’s has hosted the funerals of Admiral Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, Sir Winston Churchill and Baroness Thatcher.
4. Holy Trinity Sloane Street
This striking Arts and Craft church was built in 1888-90, at the south-eastern side of Sloane Street. It was paid for by the 5th Earl of Cadogan, in whose estate it stood.
John Dando Sedding’s design blends late Victorian trends of Pre-Raphaelite medieval and Italianate styles.
5. St Bride’s Church
Another of Sir Christopher Wren’s designs from the ashes of the 1666 Great Fire, St Bride’s is the tallest of Wren’s churches after St Paul’s, standing at 69m tall.
Located in Fleet Street, it has a long association with newspapers and journalists. It was largely gutted by fire during the Blitz in 1940.
6. All Hallows by the Tower
Located on the doorstep of the Tower of London, this church has buried the bodies of numerous victims sentenced to death on Tower Hill, including those of Thomas More, Bishop John Fisher and Archbishop Laud.
Samuel Pepys watched the Great Fire of London from the church tower in 1666, and William Penn, the founded of Pennsylvania, was baptised and educated at the church.
7. Southwark Cathedral
Southwark Cathedral stands at the oldest crossing-point of the River Thames. The Church was dedicated to St Mary, and became known as St Mary Overie (‘over the river’). It became a cathedral in 1905.
The hospital which was founded here is the direct predecessor St Thomas’s Hospital, opposite the Houses of Parliament. This hospital was named in memory of St Thomas Becket who was martyred at Canterbury in 1170.
Samuel Pepys recorded his visit in 1663:
‘I walked over the fields to Southwark…, and I spent half an hour in Mary Overy’s Church, where are fine monuments of great antiquity, I believe, and has been a fine church.
8. Fitzrovia Chapel
Although the red brick exterior is unassuming and neat, the golden mosaic interior of Fitzrovia chapel is a jewel of the Gothic Revival.
Once part of Middlesex Hospital, the chapel was built as a memorial to Major Ross MP, a former Chairman of the Board of Governors.
9. Westminster Abbey
This Gothic architectural masterpiece has hosted almost every coronation of English monarchs since 1066, when William the Conqueror was crowned on Christmas Day.
Over 3,300 people are buried here, including at least sixteen monarchs, eight Prime Ministers, and the Unknown Warrior.
10. Temple Church
Temple Church was built by the Knights Templar, the order of crusading monks who sought to protect pilgrims on their journeys to Jerusalem in the 12th century.
The Round Church was consecrated by the patriarch of Jerusalem in 1185, and the design aimed to mimic the circular Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Featured Image: Diliff / CC BY-SA 3.0.