A visit to the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields will be especially rewarding for people with a social conscience.
Centrally located next to Trafalgar Square, records show that there was a church ‘in the fields’ between Westminster and the City of London from Norman times, but the present structure was built by James Gibbs and completed in 1726.
Although the design wasn’t universally popular at the time, it wasn’t long before copies were being made around the English speaking world, particularly in the United States.
The interior is also interesting, from both a modern and historic perspective. The restored Baroque ceiling is extremely impressive as is the fabulous organ that was built as recently as 1990, but probably the most eye catching feature is the East Window. Installed in 2008, the abstract cross was designed by Shirazeh Houshiary and her husband Pip Horne. From a modern point of view I think this window is quite outstanding in its simplicity.
If somebody was to ask me to stick my neck out and choose one landmark that should not be missed on a visit to London, I think I would have to say Westminster Abbey.
Although I’m not a religious person, I do enjoy visiting some of our magnificent ecclesiastical buildings, and they don’t come much more magnificent than Westminster Abbey – but that’s only half the story.
The history of the Abbey also covers an awful lot of British history, and for somebody like me who enjoys delving into the past, this building has it all, but before I expand on what’s here, I think it’s probably best to get the unpalatable stuff out of the way first, so here goes: –
It’s expensive (£23 for a full paying adult – Jan 2020) *
Photography is not permitted inside the Abbey
Can be busy
Often closed for special services
But it’s not all bad news –
*Church Services are free
There are reductions for online bookings
Also, if you travel by train, 2 for 1 tickets are on offer at certain times
London has 31 Boroughs, 1 City (The City of London), and Westminster, which is both a Borough and a City.
Whereas the City of London became the legal and financial powerhouse of London, Westminster became the religious, royal and political centre.
This is the home of Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, and the Houses of Parliament, but it’s also the place to come for entertainment, shopping and culture in places like Piccadilly Circus, Oxford St and Trafalgar Square. I guarantee that you’ll run out of time – or steam – or both, before you’ve even scratched the surface.Continue reading →
I would hazard a guess that the majority of first time visitors to the City of London want to see St Paul’s Cathedral more than anything else, and it’s not hard to see why.
This magnificent structure built by Sir Christopher Wren, is more than just another church. It’s an architectural delight with a host of famous people buried within its walls – but more than that, for British people at least, it’s a landmark that is remembered for defying the might of the Luftwaffe during the blitz.
Before making your way over there it would be useful to know what to expect as it’s very different from Westminster Abbey.
Whereas Westminster Abbey is medieval in origin with gothic additions, St Paul’s is 17th century and has been described as English Baroque which seems a fair description to me even though I’m no expert on architectural terms.
Many people will know that Sir Christopher Wren was hired to re-build St Paul’s after the Great Fire of London, but perhaps not so many people will know that the Norman church that stood here until 1666 was one of the biggest in Europe, if not the world, with a spire that reached close to 150m high. It wasn’t just the height of the church that made it impressive but also its length.
In Salisbury Cathedral Pt 2 I described the different parts of the church, and so for this final part I’m going to explain what there is to see inside – or at least some of the highlights.
Throughout the church there’s a good collection of tombs for anyone who’s interested in this sort of thing. The first person to be buried here was William Longespee Earl of Salisbury, illegitimate son of King Henry II, and half-brother of King John. He died in 1226 and next to his wooden tomb is a plaque stating that he was present at the laying of the foundation stones of the Cathedral in 1220.
The tomb of Bishop Giles de Bridport, who was at the consecration of the Cathedral in 1258 is considered to be one of the finest 13th cent tombs in Britain, but probably the most majestic is the Hertford tomb. The Earl of Hertford (1539-1621) was the nephew of Jane Seymour, Henry VIII’s third wife, and lying above him is the effigy of his wife Lady Catherine Grey, the sister of Lady Jane Grey who was Queen of England for 9 days in 1553.
I should also mention that former Prime Minister, Edward Heath, who lived at Arundells in The Close opposite the Cathedral was buried here in 2005 in a much simpler grave.
Having explained how the new Cathedral came about in Salisbury Cathedral Pt 1, I’d like to talk a bit more about the building itself.
To start with I don’t suppose any building that’s been around for almost 800 years would have been untouched in any way, and of course Salisbury Cathedral is no exception, but the good news is that this remarkable church is still essentially the same as when it was built.
There have been a few hiccups along the way mind you including the removal of many of the stained-glass windows during the Reformation, and even some damage during the Civil War, but as was often the case, well-meaning restorers probably did the most amount of damage.
According to the official Salisbury Cathedral guidebook, the late 18th century saw James Wyatt clear the churchyard, demolish the Bell Tower, lime-wash the vaulting, cover medieval paintings, and remove even more medieval glass.
It wasn’t all bad news though. If you take a look at the West Front, you’ll find that there are 79 statues adorning the façade, and 72 of them have been added since the 19th century. George Gilbert Scott was responsible for most of them during his period of restoration between 1860 and 1876, and I reckon the West Front looks fantastic.
My favourite travel writer, Bill Bryson, said in his book ‘Notes from a Small Island’, that “There is no doubt in my mind that Salisbury Cathedral is the single most beautiful structure in England and the Close around it the most beautiful space”, and who am I to argue with Bill Bryson? It’s only his opinion of course, but I’m sure there are plenty of people who would agree with him.
If you’ve been to Old Sarum, you would have seen the Iron Age Hillfort where William the Conqueror built a castle, and successive Bishops built the first Salisbury Cathedral, but conditions were less than ideal for the clergy who lived here. It was windswept and cramped, and they didn’t get on too well with their neighbours in the castle either, and so early in the 13th century they decided to relocate down to the valley below.
Six miles or so north of Bude, is the parish of Morwenstow, and its northern boundary at Marsland Mouth is where Cornwall meets Devon.
It consists of about half a dozen small hamlets, but it’s the location of the parish church near to the rugged North Cornish coast and its connection with the rather eccentric Reverend Robert Stephen Hawker that people mainly come here for.
R.S. Hawker was born on 3rd December 1803 at Charles Church vicarage in Plymouth, and by the age of 19 was married to Charlotte Eliza I’ans, a 41 year old woman from Cornwall.
It was his ambition to become an Anglican priest and spent 5 years studying at Pembroke College Oxford, where he also wrote several pieces of poetry including his famous adaptation of ‘Song of the Western Men’.
He was ordained in 1831 and by 1835 was vicar of Morwenstow, where he remained for the rest of his life.
Prior to Hawker’s appointment at Morwenstow, the remote parish had been left pretty much to its own devices. Vicars came and went with a great deal of regularity, and those that did stay were absent most of the time, leaving the mostly poor people to fend for themselves in the best way they could. Consequently, the rugged coastline attracted smugglers, wreckers and non-conformers, and the new ‘Parson’, as he became known, regarded his task as “the effort to do good against their will to our fellow men”.
It never ceases to amaze me how saints of old had powers that would put David Blaine and Uri Geller to shame, and St Ia is yet another one.
St. Ia was a 5th century Irish princess who, after being converted to Christianity, decided that it was her duty to join a missionary party that was planning to cross the Celtic Sea in order to convert the good people of Cerniw.
The story goes that the boat left without her, but undeterred, she set about making her own arrangements – so what did she do? she sailed over on a leaf of course! Now, I have to admit I am partaking in a glass of fruit cider while I’m writing this, but I can assure you that the story is true, it must be, I’ve read the same story from several different sources just to confirm that I haven’t been hallucinating.
Call me an old cynic if you like, but I don’t believe a word of it. Having said that, it seems pretty likely that the Irish princess did make it across to the shores of Cornwall one way or another, and it also seems likely that she landed at Pendinas, or ‘The Island’ as it’s called today.
I’ve got a painting at home of St. Michael’s Mount under a moonlit sky, and to me it represents a classic Cornish seascape. I can almost hear the monks at prayer in their monastery and the sound of waves gently lapping the shore, but I can also imagine the Spaniards attacking the coastline and the smugglers offloading their barrels of brandy.
This painting was conceived from the artist’s imagination of course, but if you can be here when all the other visitors have gone, then it’s still possible to get a feel for the centuries of history that lie behind this evocative Cornish landmark.
Being Cornwall, it’s inevitable that this small rocky island half a mile offshore from Marazion, has attracted its fair share of myths and legends: Tales of seafarers being lured onto the rocks by mermaids were followed in the 5th century by an apparition of the Archangel Michael by local fishermen.
St. Michael (who is regarded as a protector from evil) is, amongst other things, the patron saint of fishermen, and his ‘appearance’ was seen as a vision to help keep the fishermen safe from harm.
Tucked away in the lovely countryside of South-East Cornwall between Saltash and Looe is the village of St. Germans.
Its small quayside sits under the shadow of a railway viaduct that crosses the River Tiddy near to where it joins the River Lynher. At one time the quayside used to handle minerals, coal, limestone and timber, but the working boats have long gone and now all you’ll see are a few boats used by the local sailing club. It’s a peaceful place to sit for a while doing nothing in particular, but there’s a bit more to the village than just a pleasant location.
This picturesque village with a population of less than a hundred, lies in a secluded valley under Buckland Beacon, just a few miles north-west of Ashburton.
A drive through the narrow lanes will bring you to a cluster of thatched cottages and an unusual church.
St Peter’s is a simple 12th c church probably built over an earlier Saxon one and still retains some Norman features, but what makes it unusual is the clock which was only installed in 1930.
Commissioned by the owner of the Buckland Estate, William Whitley, the clock was dedicated to his mother, Elizabeth, who had died the previous year.’, but instead of using numerals he replaced them with letters that spell “My Dear Mother”. If you take a closer look at my picture of the clock you’ll see that it was almost A past E when I was here.
Built on the hill where the original Roman camp was established, the Cathedral Church of St. Peter is without doubt Exeter’s crowning glory.
The church in its present form was conceived in 1114, but a Benedictine monastery and Minster was set up here in Saxon times around 670 AD. One of its pupils was Winfrith who was born in Crediton (c675), some 8 miles north-west of Exeter and where the See of Devon and Cornwall was based.
Winfrith later became known as St. Boniface, and his missionary work took him from Exeter across to Frisia and Germania, where he became venerated to such an extent that he eventually became the patron saint of Germany.
In 1050 Bishop Leofric transferred the See to the Minster at Exeter.