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St. Bartholomew-the-Great
Exterior of St. Bartholomew-the-Great
Exterior of St. Bartholomew-the-Great

Country United Kingdom
Denomination Church of England

The Priory Church of St Bartholomew-the-Great is an Anglican church located at West Smithfield in the City of London, founded as an Augustinian priory in 1123[1] - see St Bartholomew's Hospital for further details.



The church possesses the most significant Norman interior in London[2], which once formed the chancel of a much larger monastic church. It was established in 1123 by Rahere, a prebendary of St Paul's Cathedral and later an Augustinian canon, who is said to have erected the church in gratitude after recovering from a fever. Rahere's supposedly miraculous recovery contributed to the church becoming known for its curative powers, with sick people filling its aisles each 24 August, St Bartholomew's Day.

The church was originally part of a priory adjoining St Bartholomew's Hospital[3], but while the hospital survived the Dissolution about half of the priory church was demolished in 1543.[4] The nave of the church was pulled down (up to the last bay) but the crossing and choir survive largely intact from the Norman and later periods and continued in use as the parish church. The entrance to 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 was. Parts of the cloister also survive and may be seen from this path, but are not open to the public. Very little trace survives of the rest of the monastic buildings.

Interior, the east end: Rahere's tomb to the left, Lady Chapel behind the altar

The church escaped the Great Fire of London in 1666[5], but fell into disrepair, becoming occupied by squatters in the 18th century. It was restored and rebuilt by Aston Webb in the late 19th century[6]. During Canon Edwin Sidney Savage's tenure as Rector the church was further restored at the cost of more than £60,000. The Lady Chapel at the east end had been previously used for commercial purposes and it was there that Benjamin Franklin served a year as journeyman printer. The north transept had formerly been used as blacksmith's forge. The church was one of relatively few City churches to escape damage during the Second World War. Having been much used, abused and restored over the years the building now presents an interesting and impressive collection of architectures.

Great St Barts viewed from Cloth Fair

The church's name (sometimes shortened to "Great St Barts") is owed to the fact that it is one of two, nearly neighbouring, churches both linked with the hospital and priory and both dedicated to St Bartholomew. The other, inside the hospital precinct, is considerably smaller (hence its naming as St Bartholomew-the-Less), less architecturally distinguished, and of less obvious historical importance. William Hogarth was baptised in St Bartholomew's Church in 1697.

The church was designated a Grade I listed building on 4 January 1950.[7] In November 2007 St Bartholomew-the-Great became the first parish church in Britain to charge an entrance fee for tourists.[8]

Other connections

Prior Bolton's oriel window inside the church.

Great St Barts church was the location of the fourth wedding in the film Four Weddings and a Funeral and of some scenes in various others: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Shakespeare in Love, the 1999 film version of Graham Greene's 1951 novel The End of the Affair, Amazing Grace (2006), Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007), The Other Boleyn Girl (2008), and "Sherlock Homes" (2009).

The church also housed the chapel of the Imperial Society of Knights Bachelor until 2005.

St Bartholomew-the-Great is the adopted church of various livery companies and is the setting for their annual religious services: the Worshipful Company of Butchers (one of the seven oldest livery companies), the Worshipful Company of Founders (whose hall abuts the church), the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers (chartered 1448 and no.8 in the order of seniority), the Worshipful Company of Fletchers, the Worshipful Company of Farriers (chartered 1674), the Worshipful Company of Farmers (chartered 1955). The recently established Worshipful Company of Information Technologists (chartered 1992), Worshipful Company of Hackney Carriage Drivers (chartered 2004), and Guild of Public Relations Practitioners (established 2000) are also associated with St. Bartholomew-the-Great Priory Church.

Poet and campaigner John Betjeman kept a flat opposite the church yard on Cloth Fair. The building is marked by a blue plaque, and is today owned by the Landmark Trust.

Notable burials and monuments


  1. ^ "The Old Churches of London" Cobb,G: London,Batsford,1942
  2. ^ "The City of London Churches" Betjeman,J Andover, Pikin, 1967 ISBN 0853721122
  3. ^ "London:the City Churches" Pevsner,N/Bradley,S : New Haven, Yale, 1998 ISBN 0300096550
  4. ^ "The records of St. Bartholomew's priory and St. Bartholomew the Great, West Smithfield: volume 2", Webb, E.A, 1921
  5. ^ Samuel Pepys-The Shorter Pepys Latham,R(Ed) p484: Harmondsworth,1985 ISBN 0140094180
  6. ^ "The Visitors Guide to the City of London Churches" Tucker,T: London, Friends of the City Churches, 2006 ISBN 0955394503
  7. ^ Images of England — details from listed building database (199817) accessed 23 January 2009
  8. ^ Patrick Sawer (November 18, 2007). "'Four Weddings' church to charge". Telegraph. Retrieved 2007-11-20.  

See also

External links

Coordinates: 51°31′7.92″N 0°05′58.77″W / 51.5188667°N 0.0996583°W / 51.5188667; -0.0996583



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