London – St Mary le Bow

I had a day in London on Friday 27 February to meet friend Claire and daughter Hannah. We needed lunch, and ended up in Café Below, below the church of St Mary-le-Bow – website.. Not a disabled accessible café, as the stairs to the crypt are steep, but it was lovely when we got there. We were late for lunch and the menu choice was a bit limited, but my sea bass was gorgeous, as was the lemon tart. Expensive if this was Hexham, but reasonably priced as it is London.

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The church has its own website – I am writing this text on 28 February, the day they have rung a Marmalade Peal in honour of World Marmalade Day (yes, really). The original bells were rung for curfew, rang “Turn again Whittington” for young Dick, were recast in the 1930s (one legend says Selfridge paid for them), shattered in the blitz, and recast in 1961. A Cockney is born in the sound of the bells.

feb 2015 260Last time I came here was in 2007. Here is the press release for that event:

At a ceremony dating from the reign of Henry VIII, the Rt Rev’d Nigel Stock legally becomes Suffolk’s Diocesan Bishop today (Monday 22nd October 2007). The Archbishop of Canterbury the Most Rev’d Rowan Williams and officials from Suffolk’s diocese and cathedral will gather at 5pm at the church of St-Mary-le-Bow, Cheapside, London for a legal ceremony and service which confirms Bishop Nigel’s election as the tenth Bishop of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich. [I was the “official from the Cathedral”!].

The event takes place at the home of the Court of Arches, the highest legal body in the Church of England and as Bishop Nigel has to have a lawyer present, he has chosen his eldest son Michael, a solicitor with a firm in the City of London. The most senior legal official in the Church of England, the Vicar General, will ensure all the appointment procedures have been correctly followed and formally witness Bishop Nigel’s consent to become Suffolk’s Bishop.

The ceremony confers onto the new Bishop, “the spiritual jurisdiction over the diocese by committing to him the care, government and administration of the spirituals of the Bishopric.” As Suffolk’s senior bishop, he is also charged to have “special responsibility to further the unity of the church” and ““to know his people and be known by them.”

The Appointment of Bishops Act 1533 laid down that the Crown appoints all new bishops, but in modern times HM The Queen, as the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, directs cathedral and the Archbishop of Canterbury to join in the legal process. Before Bishop Nigel takes up his public duties as Suffolk’s Bishop he will have an audience with HM The Queen to take “the Oath of Homage” and then will take his seat in St Edmundsbury Cathedral at his Enthronement on 20th November.

I found the service an amazing mix of religion and law – the Church of England at its Establishment Best. I was slightly less stressed today as I wandered round this lovely church with my camera. I had recently purchased a useful little book called London’s City Churches, by Stephen Millar, Metro Publications, 2013. It is also worth mentioning the website of The Friends of the City Churches – and their monthly publication City Events, also online here.

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I have just looked at the church’s website and clicked on the “History” tab, thinking I can cut and paste and write about the church history. No, I should have known better. I am invited to buy a £30 book of historical essays. Let’s go back to my little book by Stephen Millar.

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The church is on the site of a Roman basilica, has Saxon roots, and was first recorded as Sancta Maria de Arcubus in Norman times. If you want to see the arches, which give the Court its name, look again at the café photo again. In 1331 a balcony collapsed during a jousting tournament to celebrate the birth of the Black Prince causing Queen Philippa and her attendants to fall to the ground. After being destroyed in the Great Fire of London it was the first church to be rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren in 1670-80, as well as the most expensive. Wren built to a Neoclassical plan. The tower is 325 feet tall, and this picture is in the church.

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The church was gutted during the blitz of WW2 – this was what was left:

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It was rebuilt by Laurence King between 1956 and 1964, following Wren’s original design, but with a contemporary feel. The outer walls and bell tower remain. It is a wonderfully colourful church. There are two pulpits – reflecting the idea that the Old and New Testaments were read from one side, and the Gospel from the other.  I love the gilding and the little details.

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The hanging crucifix was a gift from Obergsmmergau after the War.

feb 2015 264The glass is by John Hayward – who has a blog at here. I wondered why his blog had not been updated since 2006, and then found he died in 2007.  This photo of him is on display in the church.

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I liked this crucifix, although I don’t know who made it, and it is a very elegant font.

feb 2015 269feb 2015 278feb 2015 283Nice statue of St George in the Chapel, but only photographable through the grill. Apparently there is another memorial here to the Norwegian resistance from WW2 – remembering that Bow Bells were the BBC’s signal during the War to occupied Europe. This is a memorial to Admiral Arthur Philip, the first Governor of Australia. Who was it who, when asked by Australian immigration “do you have a criminal record?”, replied “I didn’t know it was still compulsory”?

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Outside is a statue to John Smith, a local man who went on to be Governor of Virginia. He of Pocahontas fame. There is a memorial on the church wall to John Milton. Just down the road is one to Thomas Beckett, also born near here.

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The Church Tower is rather special – 224 feet – a landmark on Cheapside. So who on earth gave permission for the hideous block that houses the O2 shop next door?

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