I really like popping into churches, preferably the ones I discover whilst walking or cycling around.
The church that I enjoy visiting even after many a visit is St Bartholomew the Great Smithfield. I think coffee in the crypt is something everybody should take their favourite Aunt to experience.
I really came to know the church well when I worked for Britmovietours. Many a film has used its interior from The Huntsman, to Shakespeare in Love, to Sherlock Holmes to most famously, Four Weddings and a Funeral.
Founded in 1123, all you need do is see the tomb of Prior Rahere to photobomb many a scene in a movie.
The church also has a golden statue of a flayed alive St Bartholomew if you like that sort of thing!!
St Mary Le Bow is not just the sound of Bow bells cockney church it also has a great crypt coffee shop (bit of a theme this). Sorry to disappoint, but cockney is a lot broader than an East Ender, after all Dick Whittington heard the bells at Highgate and apparently turned around.
The bells signified curfew, so all the cockney citizens high tailed it back inside the city gates.
Like other Norman edifices you are looking at their version of Dubai – built to impress with stone from Caen Normandy. The psychological weight hits you hard. After all, if you are bothered enough to bring the stone from home you intend to stay. Indeed, Le Bow refers to the Norman arches, a very unusual sight to the cowering Saxons.
Talking of edifices, slammed down into the East End are these two Hawksmoor churches; Christchurch Spitalfields and St Georges in the East.
Built as part of the 1714 gambit of ‘our religion is more powerful than yours‘ they are so huge, they demand you look at them.
Hawksmoor is sometimes called the devils architect because his designs have pagan motifs and because (so rumour has it) if joined by lines on a map they form a pentagram!
Actually the truth is that he couldn’t afford the European Grand Tour, so he devised his own classically inspired designs and his churches form a pentagram in the same way a selection of KFC outlets do if using a marker pen, in other words, by dumb luck.
Pirates and bonfires
Lastly, with the Thames having more pirates than the Caribbean, St Nicholas in Deptford is oddly very proud of being the home of the Jolly Roger.
When not advertising rum, Captain William Morgan worshiped at St Nicholas. The gate decorations rather overstate that a charnel house lies within the church walls, but Morgan obviously thought the skeletal masonry would look pretty scary on his red flag or Jolie Rouge.
Talking of charnel houses, is this how we get the word bonfire from bone-fire as the occupants of graveyards were dug up so the grave could be reused?
And is the rich avoiding this by being buried in the crypts and floors the origin of ‘stinking rich’? Going to worship would be a bit pongy with the decaying all around the pews…
(P.S. to my knowledge neither of the Hawksmoors have coffee bars.)