St Michael Pater Noster Royal - The Worshipful Company of Parish Clerks

St Michael Paternoster Royal

• St Michael Paternoster Royal is associated with the fabled Dick Whittington. First recorded in the 13th century, St Michael’s was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 but rebuilt under the aegis of Sir Christopher Wren.

• St Michael’s was further severely damaged by German bombers during the Blitz of the Second World War and was restored in 1966 – 68.

• Pre-Fire London had seven churches dedicated to the Archangel Michael, all but one (St Michael le Querne) were rebuilt after the Great Fire.

• The earliest record of St Michael’s is as St Michael of Paternosterchierch and is dated 1219. The suffix comes from its location on Paternoster Lane, (now College Hill), which, in turn was named after the sellers of paternosters or rosaries based there. The suffix Royal is first recorded in the next century and refers to another nearby street, now vanished, called Le Ryole, which was a corruption of La Reole, a town in Bordeaux. This street was so named due to the presence of numerous wine merchants.

• A local resident in the early 15th century was Sir Richard Whittington four times Lord Mayor of London. One of his earlier philanthropic acts, made in 1409, was to pay for the rebuilding and extension of St Michael Paternoster Royal after a vacant plot of land was acquired in Le Ryole. He later founded the College of St Spirit and St Mary within the church, so that St Michael's became a collegiate church, i.e. it was administered by a college of priests, in this case five, instead of a rector. It was commonly known as Whittington's College. Adjacent to the church, Whittington also founded an almshouse.

• The college was dissolved by Edward VI in 1548; but was re-established in a new entity a few years later under Queen Mary. The title seems in any case to have persisted for the church, giving the names of College Street and College Hill.

• Whittington was buried in St Michael’s in 1423 on the south side of the altar near his wife, Alice. John Stow records that Whittington’s body was dug up by the then rector, Thomas Mountain, during the reign of Edward VI, in the belief that he had been buried with treasure. He was not, so Mountain took his leaden shroud. The grave was dug up again during the reign of Mary and his body re-covered in lead. An attempt to find his grave in 1949 did uncover a mummified cat, but no Lord Mayor.

• After the church’s destruction in the Fire, the parish was united with that of St Martin Vintry, also destroyed but not rebuilt.

• Construction of a new church began in 1685 (one of the last of the 51 churches to be rebuilt) and stopped in 1688 owing to the financial uncertainty. Building began again the next year and finished in 1694. The steeple was built between 1713 and 1717.

• St Michael’s underwent a number of renovations in the 19th century but their work was lost on July 23, 1944 when the church was hit by a flying bomb, leaving only its walls and tower. Services continued in the remaining shell until 1955. A proposal by the diocese to demolish the walls and preserve the tower only was successfully opposed by the City of London Corporation and the church restored by Elidir Davies between 1966 and 1968. It is the last City church to be restored. • St Michael’s was opened by The Duke of Edinburgh on December 19, 1968 as Headquarters of the Mission to Seamen an Anglican organisation that supports chaplains in ports around the world.

• The entrance is through the tower in the south west corner. The stone spire was designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor and is similar to those of St Stephen Walbrook and St James Garlickhythe. • The church was designated a Grade I listed building on 4 January 1950.

• The east wall includes three stained glass windows designed by John Hayward in 1968. The main window depicts St Michael trampling a red-winged Satan. The windows on either side show the Virgin Mary with the infant Jesus and Adam and Eve with St Gabriel and the serpent. On the south wall, another stained glass window depicts Dick Whittington with his cat.

• The reredos is original, before it are 17th century statues of Moses and Aaron, moved here from All Hallows the Great on that church’s demolition in 1894: the statues’ hands were blown off in the war and have been replaced; Moses previously held a pointer, indicating the Decalogue, while Aaron held a censor - he now raises his hands in a blessing. Also from All-Hallows-the-Great is the elaborate chandelier, marked "Birmingham 1644".

• The organ case is a replica of the 1749 organ case taken from All-Hallows-the-Great but destroyed in the War. It houses a Noel Mander organ.

Today it is the church  of the Mission to Seamen.


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