Founded in 1123, St Bartholomew The Great is one of the oldest places of worship in London. Parts of the original church still remain though in the year 1539 King Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries meant almost all of the nave of St Bartholomew The Great was destroyed by 1543. The remaining traces of the monastic building is what you see today. The nave of a church is the long centre narrow part of a church between the main columns.
The church also survived the Great Fire of London in 1666 and was one of the few London churches spared from damage in the German Blitz during World War II. St Bartholomew the Great wasn’t so great during the 18th century as it fell into severe disrepair. Determination and faith led to repair and restoration efforts in the late 1800’s which saved it from destruction.
Today the priory church is an Anglican church and an important architectural monument. It was established by Rahere, a clergyman for King Henry I. Folklore tells us Raher erected the church as thanks to God after recovering from a severe fever. The clergyman’s miraculous recovery led many to believe the church had curative powers, so sick people filled the aisles every 24 August, which is St Bartholomew’s Day.
St Bartholomew The Great is a living, active church but it also welcomes those of no particular religious affiliation because of its history and architecture.
One step inside and you know you’ve entered a special place unlike the more famous St Paul’s Cathedral or Westminster Abbey. Inside is the most intact Norman interior in London, with a suitably ancient atmosphere. There is simple architectural beauty which draws you in and it almost seems as if you’re part of history. The remains of the original Norman church consist of a transept crossing, chancel, and ambulatory with large round pillars. The low, wide side aisles have groin vaults.
If you are a movie buff, you may recognize St Bartholomew The Great. The church has been a popular film location for Four Weddings and A Funeral, Sherlock, The Other Boleyn Girl, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Amazing Grace, and The End of the Affair. One day I was there The Hollow Crown : Richard II with Patrick Stewart was filming.
The entrance of the church from Smithfield now goes into the churchyard through a tiny surviving fragment of the west front, which is now surmounted by a half-timbered Tudor building. From there to the church door, a path leads along roughly where the south aisle of the nave used to be.
Prepare yourself to be in awe and add St Bartholomew The Great to your things to do in London list, especially if you enjoy stepping into history.
Map and Guide for St Bartholomew The Great
Where is St Bartholomew The Great?
GPS Coordinates for St Bartholomew The Great :: 51.518905° N, 0.099574° W
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