It’s Sunday morning and I was thinking about the churches in the City of London.
In 1666, at the time of the Great Fire, there were 96 parish churches in the City; 87 were destroyed in the fire. Many were not rebuilt, and you find plaques marking their existence.
The great English architect Sir Christopher Wren was responsible for rebuilding 52 of the churches, Including St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Not all of these survive today. Several were destroyed in the Second World War and not rebuilt – with some of these churches, their towers remain as reminders of churches that used to stand in London.
St. Mary Somerset
St. Alban, Wood Street
There are now 44 functioning churches in the City of London, which includes churches that are now used by Dutch, Romanian and Korean congregations.
It is the windows of the churches that I was thinking about today.
These not only decorate the churches and colour them with mysterious shades of red and purple,
they often tell the stories of the churches and introduce us to people who were important to the parishes and to London.
Here’s Magnus in all his splendour – but he looks like a warrior, which is wrong, as you will learn…
The church of St. Magnus the Martyr on Lower Thames Street was one of those rebuilt under the direction of Wren. The windows in this church tell a lot of its history.
Magnus, was an Earl of Orkney, an island off northern Scotland.
His father and uncle, who were twins, ruled jointly until 1098 when the King of Norway deposed them and made his son ruler of the islands. Magnus and his cousin were taken to Norway where they became part of the royal household. Magnus had a reputation for piety and gentleness, which the Norwegians viewed as cowardice, especially when he refused to fight in a Viking battle; he stayed on board the ship singing psalms. Magnus returned to Scotland and was negotiating with his cousin to become joint rulers of Orkney. However, his cousin betrayed him and captured Magnus and had him executed.
Magnus was executed on the island of Egilsay in 1116. He had been captured during a power struggle with his cousin. Magnus had a reputation for piety and gentleness and was canonised in 1135.
After the Great Fire, the parish of St. Magnus the Martyr was united with the parish of St. Margaret, Fish Street. The tall column in this window is the monument to the Great Fire (designed by Christopher Wren). Appropriately, it is known as “The Monument”
The church of St. Magnus the Martyr stands on a site that was the original path to London Bridge. When the church was rebuilt after the Great Fire, the new tower blocked the path, so the tower had to be redesigned to allow people to walk straight through and down to London Bridge.
Londoners don’t really like change.
Temple Church, the ancient church of the Knights Templar, which was consecrated in 1185,has a stained glass window that shows the flames of fire surrounding St. Paul’s Cathedral – but these are flames caused by bombs dropped during the Second World War. The cathedral shown in the window is the one rebuilt by Christopher Wren – and completed in 1710.
In many London churches the windows tell of donors – individuals, groups or, often,
Livery Companies – the great Worshipful Companies that are the basis of business and
local government in the City of London.
These are in the church of St. Margaret Lothbury, just behind the Bank of England –
This is the Coat of Arms of the Worshipful Company of Armourers and Brasiers. The Armourers were founded in 1322 and received their Royal Charter in 1453.
The Worshipful Company of Glovers established their own assosciation in 1349. I love their motto: “True Hearts and Warm Hands”.
The Worshipful Company of Fishmongers is associated with St. Magnus the Martyr. It is #4 in precendence – one of the oldest and most important of the Livery Companies of London.
The coat of arms of the Worshipful Company of Fruiterers is in St. Mary Abchurch features Adam and Eve with the tree of knowledge. This company is #45 in precendence and was founded in 1463. Their motto is: ‘Deus dat incrementum’ (God gives the increase).
There are now 110 Livery Companies in the City of London. Originally they were trade organizations that trained professionals, set trade standards and oversaw business in the City of London. They were called Livery Companies because their members were entitled to wear special unifoms, insignia or symbols. Each one is associated with a specific church in the City of London where they hold special ceremonies, and to which they make financial donations.
Some of the Livery Companies still have close links with their orginial trade, but many are now mainly charitable organizations that raise and donate millions of pounds to schools, hospitals, retirement homes, and other worthy groups.
New Livery Companies are still being created. The newest 5 are the Worshipful Companies of Management Consultants; International Bankers; Tax Advisers; Security Professionals; Educators; Art Scholars.
Many church windows depict people associated with the church, like this one at St. Lawrence Jewry:
These three men were very important creating the visual fabric of London after the destruction of the Great Fire: Grinling Gibbons (Master Carver), Christopher Wren (Architect) and Edward Strong (Master Mason).
Sir Thomas More also makes it onto a window at St. Lawrence Jewry. He was born on Milk Street, just a few yards away from the church. Around 1501, when he was 23, More delivered a series of lectures in this church about the relationship between Christianity and government. He went on to become one of King Henry VIII’s most important officials, but was executed in 1535 when he refused to sign the Act of Supremacy saying that the English king was the head of the church in England.
Several windows in churches in London show links with American history.
The Captain John Smith window at St. Sepulchre has to be one of my favourites.
John Smith was the great leader of the first permanent English colony in America – Jamestown. Interestingly, the window links the Jamestown Colony (founded in 1607) with the Massachusetts Bay Colony (founded twenty years later, in 1628). Here John Smith is shown with two of his financial supporters – Robert Bertie, Earl of Lindsey, and Sir Samuel Saltonstall. Jamestown was an investment opportunity – King James I issued the First Charter of Virginia to the London Company in 1606. There were over 1,700 investors.
One investor, Samuel Saltonstall was also a close friend of John Smith, who came to live in his house on Snow Hill (just around the corner from the church) after he was sent back to England, having been seriously injured in a gunpowder explosion in Jamestown.
John Smith died in Saltonstall’s house, and Saltonstall was an executor of Smith’s will. Samuel Saltonstall had a brother who became Lord Mayor of London in 1597 – Sir Richard Saltonstall. And – Samuel was the father of the younger Richard Saltonstall, who sailed to Massachusetts in 1629 on the Arbella, John Winthrop’s flagship.
Richard Saltonstall only remained in Massachusetts for less than 2 years – he returned to England and had a diplomatic and political career. His adult children stayed in the new colony and played many important roles in the history of Massachusetts.
St. Sepulchre – Captain John Smith window, 3 ships – canon84The window at St. Sepulchre also shows the three boats that sailed to Jamestown – The Godspeed, the Discovery and the Susan Constant.
This window in the church of St. Mary Battersea has to be one of the most surprising for Americans – It is dedicated to Benedict Arnold, whose name is synonymous with treason.
He was an American general in the War of Independence who sold the secrets of the defence of West Point and the Hudson River to the British. He then fled to Canada and eventually made it to London where he lived his last years with his wife (Peggy Shippen) and his daughter.
The wording at the bottom of the window is interesting.
The plaque on the house on Gloucester Place where they lived is somewhat ironic for Americans –
Americans would NEVER call Benedict Arnold a patriot!
This window in the church of All Hallows by the Tower has everything –
Coats of Arms, a royal crest, history, portraits, and a beautiful view of London.
The view of London in this window is definitely a beautiful work of art.As you can see: church windows can be religious instruction, history lessons, advertising for the donors, and works of art. They will almost always repay a few minutes of quiet study.
There are MANY more interesting windows in London. I hope you can enjoy some!
@Cathey Leitch, 2015