Above Westminster the Thames is quite frozen over...Many fantastical experiments are daily put in practice, as certain youths burnt a gallon of wine upon the ice and made all the passengers partakers. but the best is of an honest woman (they say) that had a great longing to have her husband get her with child upon the Thames.
-- John Chamberlain January 8 1608
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The MediŠval London skyline was dominated by church spires. There were 126 parish churches crammed into the "Square Mile" in the 12th century. By the 14th century the number had been reduced to 110. This is the last in a series of four articles which provides a brief description and history of each mediŠval parish church. Where possible the dates of foundation or the date of the first documentary reference are given. The dates of destruction, reconstruction and suppression, where appropriate, are given for each parish church. These articles are the prologue to a more comprehensive coverage of the individual parish churches which will follow later in the year.
The Church was one of the most important agencies in the shaping and characterisation of mediŠval London. Not only was London the seat of an important Bishopric but it also had a large number of wealthy monasteries, friaries and nunneries within the City walls or just outside. And it had more than 100 Parish Churches.
The church also dominated daily life. Religion and provision for the afterlife were extremely important in the mediŠval mind. Every facet of one's daily routine was dominated by the need to ensure the soul's salvation and therefore by the Church. Thus, the daily round was regulated according to the ringing of the church bells, contracts were invalid unless God's penny had been paid and, of course, all oaths were sworn on the gospels.
In his Description of London, (late 12th century) FitzStephen tells us :
"In the Church of St. Paul is the Episcopal See ... Also as concerns Christian worship, there are both in London and the Suburbs thirteen greater Conventual churches, and a hundred and twenty-six lesser parochial."
By the time that the Taxatio Ecclesiastica was drawn up in 1291 there were a total of 119 churches, including St Paul's and various churches outside the walls and in Southwark. By the end of the 14th century it is estimated that there were a total of one hundred and ten Parish Churches, ninety-seven of them within the City walls and the names of these are known to us. This concentration ensured that people could belong to small tightly-knit groups and the churches themselves became an important physical focus for secular parish life. Many of the churches were substantially rebuilt during the 14th and 15th centuries, largely financed by the parishioners themselves. The Great Fire of 1666 wrought great devastation, destroying a total of eighty-nine churches. Of these only 51 were rebuilt. New churches were added in the eighteenth and nineteenth and centuries but the bombing of London in the Second World War destroyed many so that at the end of the conflict less than forty had survived. A terrorist bombing campaign in the 1990s claimed the dishonourable trophy of St Ethelburga on Bishopsgate, one of the dozen mediŠval churches which had until then survived in their entirety.
This major series of articles will describe the histories of the MediŠval parish churches whose names are known to us. For ease of future reference, the churches are numbered consecutively from east to west and form four natural groups. This series begins by providing a brief introduction to each individual church in each of these groups. For each church is given:
- The common name used today.
- Alternative names where these exist.
- The date of its original foundation if known
These four articles are the prologue to a more comprehensive coverage of the individual parish churches which will follow later in the series. The links to the articles already available follow below. You can also see a complete list of the The Bishops of London on another page.
Articles already published:
London's Mediaeval Parish Churches: Part 1- From the Tower to Cornhill
London's Mediaeval Parish Churches: Part 2- From Cornhill to the Walbrook
London's Mediaeval Parish Churches: Part 3- From the Walbrook to Cheapside
London's Mediaeval Parish Churches: Part 4- From Cheapside to Ludgate and Without the Walls
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