St Benet Gracechurch
• St. Benet Gracechurch was first recorded in 1181. Destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, it was one of the 51 churches rebuilt by the office of Sir Christopher Wren. The church was demolished in 1868.
• ‘St. Benet’ is short for ‘St. Benedict’ and this was one of 4 churches in pre-Fire London dedicated to St Benedict of Nursia, the 6th century founder of Western monastism. Several streets in medieval London were named after the produce sold there, such as Milk Street and Bread Street. Gracechurch meant “Grass Church”, referring to the site of a hay market.
• The earliest surviving reference to the church is in the 1053 Charter of Brihtmaer conveying a church in Gracechurch Street to Christ Church, Canterbury. The dedication to St. Benedict is first recorded during the reign of Henry III.
• At the beginning of the reign of Mary I, the churchwardens paid 3s. 4d. to a plasterer to remove the Biblical texts painted on the interior walls during the reign of her Protestant brother Edward VI. Shortly afterwards, church records recount that a Te Deum was sung ‘for the birth of our Prince – which was thought then to be’ – one of Mary’s phantom pregnancies.
• The parish was combined with that of St. Leonard Eastcheap in 1670 and rebuilding of the church began in 1681. The 1686 accounts include an entry of £1 14s 0d ‘to wine and sweetmeats for treating the Lord Mayor at the opening of the Church’, although work on the spire continued into the following year. A curious item in the accounts for the 1690s was the note of sixpence paid to the sexton for ringing the pancake bell, presumably to usher in the Shrove Tuesday festivities.
• In 1791, Dr. George Gaskin, became rector at St. Benet's. His society work entailed co-ordinating the distribution of bibles and other religious works throughout the British Isles. In 1797, he took up the position of rector of the church of Stoke Newington, while maintaining the benefice of St. Benet.
• The second half of the 19th century saw a movement of population from the City of London to surrounding suburbs. This left many of the city churches with tiny congregations, while many of the newly built suburbs had no churches. The Union of Benefices Act 1860 was passed by Parliament, permitting the demolition of City churches and the sale of land to build churches in the suburbs. St. Benet Gracechurch was demolished in 1868 so that Gracechurch Street could be widened. The parish was combined with that of nearby All Hallows Lombard Street and the furnishings distributed among several churches. The outstanding pulpit is now in St Olave Hart Street. St. Benet Gracechurch was one of only two Wren churches never to have an organ.