Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Priory Church of St Bartholomew-the-Great

London The Unfinished City
Priory Church of St Bartholomew-the-Great.

Monday March 27, 2023.

Wandering around the London, as I do, I invariably stumble across places or discover hidden gems on a regular basis, that I was unaware of. The City of London is no different for me. Although the area is renowned for its business district, skyscrapers, popular landmarks and the such, there is an abundance of history to be found along its maze-like streets.

Today was different as I had gone to London specifically to visit the medieval Priory Church of St Bartholomew-the-Great, in the year that marks the 900th anniversary of the building.

London The Unfinished City
St Bartholomew's Gatehouse.

I entered the grounds of the church through St Bartholomew's gatehouse, which was once the southern doorway of the nave, which was destroyed in 1536. 

I walked along the the path and entered the church which, considering it had only been open for 15 minuted, was full of visitors on a coach tour. So, I took my time exploring this fascinating building, waiting for the crowd to move on so that I could get some photos. I am not one that likes people in my photos, if I can help it.

London The Unfinished City
Looking towards the altar.

I didn't have to wait too long and I was soon looking around the church alone and in silence.

Having only seen the interior in films and on TV I was surprised at how dark the interior was, even with the morning sun bursting through the top windows.

London The Unfinished City
The organ.

I spent a good 45 minutes reading and absorbing the atmosphere of the place, before I headed off to the next stop on my trip.

London The Unfinished City
Light and Shadows.

Brief History

While on a pilgrimage to Rome Rahere, a member of the Anglican clergy, had a dream that told him to found a church in the London suburb of Smithfield. On his return to London he discovered that the area was owned by the crown, so nothing could be built on it. Rahere then told King Henry I about his dream and the land was granted to him.

London The Unfinished City
Southern Cloister.

Rahere constructed a church, priory and a hospital all opening in 1123. Rahere became prior of the priory and master of the hospital. He died in 1145 and it is entirely possible that he was treated at the hospital before his death. He is interred in a tomb within the church.

London The Unfinished City
Tomb of Rahere.

In 1539 the priory was dissolved and the nave of the church was demolished. The monastic buildings were left largely intact and the choir sanctuary were preserved for Parish use. 

London The Unfinished CIty
Oriel Window.

During the reign of Queen Mary I Dominican friars were housed here, before Queen Elizabeth I made it a Parish Church once again.

London The Unfinished City
The Lady Chapel.

Throughout the centuries various parts of the building were damaged or destroyed until restoration began to take place in the 1860s. More restoration took place in the 1880s and 1890s and continued well into the 20th century.
London The Unfinished City
Exquisite Pain by Damien Hirst.

St Bartholomew the Great is London's oldest parish church, built when Henry I, son of William the Conqueror, was King of England. 

The Lady Chapel is the site of the only visitation of the Virgin Mary in London, happening sometime in the 12th century.

It survived the Great Fire of 1666 and the bombs dropped in both World War I's Zeppelin raids and during the Blitz of World War II.

The building was Grade I listed in 1950.


In 1595 William Scudamore, a local resident, took the opportunity to build a new residence above the remains of the nave’s southern doorway. This two-storey timber framed house with an attic, although modest by Tudor standards, made up for its lack of grandeur with its location.

London The Unfinished City
The Gatehouse.

The huge walls of the priory saved the gatehouse from the Great Fire of 1666. 

During the 18th century a Georgian facade was built over the Tudor timber hiding it from view for two centuries. It was not until a Zeppelin bombing raid caused damage that the original frontage was revealed. This is the oldest timber facade left in the City of London.


  1. Really fascinating history. Yes, I too was surprised how dark it is. Perhaps time for a revisit.

    1. I am more than happy to visit this place, again, and the other wonders of the area.