As part of its lecture and education program, the Society carries out a number of outside visits and walks. Today I was lucky enough to attend an outside visit to the parish church of St. Bartholomew the Great in London excellently conducted by the Verger.
This Norman church is said to be the oldest church building in London, founded by Rahere, a courtier of Henry I in 1123. It has been the scene of many films and TV series, such as Four Weddings and a Funeral, the latest being the current Sherlock Holmes film in cinemas as I write. The church is just a little way out of the City walls in Smithfield which was originally a field used for jousting and a venue for executions and of course well known today as the site of London’s former cattle market.
The building has gone through many changes and today it is possible to see some of the original 12th Century church with many of the additions that have taken place up to and including the 20th Century.The original Priory was surrendered to the tyrant King Henry VIII who passed them on to Sir Richard Rich who took up residence in the Prior’s House. Under “bloody” Mary it became a Dominican convent until an Act of Parliament of 1559 once again restored it to a Parish Church.
The church had a Charnel House under the Sanctuary which today is a dressing room. Here we saw some of the vestments that are quite old and only used on special occasions such as a rose coloured set used on Mothering Sunday.
The visit finished with a look at fifteen minute film about the church and a fascinating look at some photographs showing the graveyard and local Elizabethan housing from 1877; then off to the tea room in the Cloisters for a well deserved cup of tea!
The church is open to visitors most days and charges £4 for entry but of course you will have to look around yourself and not get the expert commentary of the Verger or the camaraderie in company with other Society members. In fact the next two outside visits to Lambeth Palace and Goldsmiths’ Hall are both fully booked, and the next after that is the visit to Wesley’s Chapel on 31st March 2010.
I highly recommend an afternoon or day out led by the Society but suggest you book early to avoid disappointment!