St Helen Bishopsgate

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• St. Helen's Bishopsgate is in the City, close to the Lloyd's building and St Mary Axe. • It is the largest surviving church in the City and contains more monuments than any other church in London except Westminster Abbey, hence it is sometimes referred to as the 'Westminster Abbey of the City'.

• The church of St. Helen dates from the 12th century and a priory of Benedictine nuns was founded there in 1210. It is unusual in that it was designed with two parallel naves, giving it a wide interior. Until the dissolution of the priory in 1538, the church was divided in two by a partition running from east to west, the northern half serving the nuns and the southern the parishioners. It is the only building from a nunnery to survive in the City of London.

• The priory had extensive monastic buildings; its hall was later used by the Worshipful Company of Leathersellers until its demolition in 1799. A crypt extended north from the church, under the hall.

• St. Helen's was the parish church of William Shakespeare when he lived in the area in the 1590s.

• In the 17th century two classical door frames were added to the otherwise Gothic church. The building was heavily restored by John Loughborough Pearson between 1891-1893 and reopened on St. John the Baptist's Day, 1893, by the Bishop of London, Frederick Temple.

• St. Helen's was one of only a few City churches to survive both the Great Fire of 1666 and the Blitz during World War II. In 1992 and 1993, however, the church was badly damaged by two IRA bombs that were set off nearby. The roof of the building was lifted and one of the City's largest medieval stained glass windows was shattered. The church has since been fully restored although many of the older monuments within it were entirely destroyed.

• Due to parish consolidation over the years, the parish is now named 'St. Helen Bishopsgate with St. Andrew Undershaft and St. Ethelburga Bishopsgate and St. Martin Outwich and St. Mary Axe'. The Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors are the patrons of the benefice.

• The church was designated a Grade I listed building on 4 January 1950.

• The organ dates from 1744 when an annuity organ by Thomas Griffin was installed. It has undergone several restorations since by builders such as George Pike England in 1810, J.C. Bishop and Son in 1910 and 1923, Hill, Norman and Beard in 1929 and 1957, and Martin Goetze & Dominic Gwynn in 1996. The organ is of such historic significance that it has been awarded a Grade II listing by the British Institute of Organ Studies.

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