The Wonders of London – the main wonder of the day

This was the main goal of my travel that day – All Hallows by the Tower, the oldest church in the City of London.

 

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It stands virtually several steps away from the magestic Tower, the Norman castle-fortress-palace, famous all over the world. But this small church is no less fascinating.

It was founded actually 300 years before the Tower of London (1066)  by the Abbey of Barking in 675AD.

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The Bell Tower was badly damaged by an explosion in 1650 caused when some barrels of gunpowder being stored in the churchyard (illegally!) exploded; some 50 nearby houses were destroyed as well, and there were many fatalities. The tower was rebuilt in 1658, the only example of work carried out on a church during the Commonwealth era of 1649-1660. It only narrowly survived the Great Fire of London in 1666 and owes its survival to Admiral William Penn who had his men from a nearby naval yard demolish the surrounding buildings to create firebreaks. During the Great Fire, Samuel Pepys climbed the church’s spire to watch the progress of the blaze and what he described as “the saddest sight of desolation”.

Over the years the church suffered many destructions, the worst during the Blitz when the bombs fell on it twice. So, part of it was completely destroyed and various other parts are of different eras. The man in the church who kindly took me on tour, showed me the photo of the bombed church – I was surprised that it was still there!!! There had been hardly anything left of it! Luckily for us it was carefully restored.

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This is the main entrance lavishly decorated with carvings.

Funnily enough, the bombing exposed something that had been screened by a later wall for centuries – an arch from the Saxon church. 7th century! This is the OLDEST piece of church material in the whole of London!

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The Saxon arch

As I said, I was so lucky to have the nicest possible guy to guide me through many treasures of the church, and we started from the crypt. And the first thing I saw there was – Oh, my God! – the real Roman pavement! Seriously! It is one of the most perfectly preserved Roman pavements and in was laid in – hold it! – SECOND CENTURY! And it is still there, in front of our eyes.

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Roman pavement, discovered in 1926, evidence of city life on this site for nearly two thousand years.

 

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Another relic of the crypt is this lead box (they call it the Cistern) which was only discovered in 1923. It was hidden for 200 years by a vicar (unknown) who became so worried about the church records’ safety that he decided to hide all the Parish registers to prevent their loss or destruction by warring parties of the time. So he placed them all in this Cistern and put it in the church tower… This is how all the precious registers starting from Elizabethan time were preserved for posterity and are now such a wonderful source of information about life in the old times.

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Off we go, past the old registers where you can see the fascinating entries of the baptism of one William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania (he was educated in the old schoolroom too).

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William Penn

In another register there is a marriage entry of the US President John Q Adams who married Louisa Johnson, who was English by birth and insisted to be married in London. And so they did. Louisa was the only First Lady born outside of the US.

John Q Adams

John Q Adams

Louisa Adams

Louisa Adams

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the end of the corridor I saw this unusual altar:

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It was brought back from Palestine by the Knights Templar during the Crusades. They say that the Templar Cross still could be seen carved on the altar, but it was too far away and the light was too dim for me to see. Later, when the Knights Templar were persecuted all over Europe, a lot of them came to England. Here they were also put to trials but not so atrociously. Some of the trials took place here, in this church. My guide told me that the Order still exists (!) and it’s members still prefer this very church to all the others and conduct their rituals here and that a couple of months ago he saw them in full gear during their initiation ceremony! Wow!

Couple more interesting  things from the Crypt:

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This misshapen piece of lead is left as a reminder of the destruction during WW2. The heat from the bombings was so intense that the roofing lead melted and ran down the walls.

Can you see how magnificent this church is? How full of HISTORY? Various ages, different events all left their mark here and this is why it is such a treasure.

But wait! We finished the tour of the “downstairs”, we will explore the “upstairs” next.

PS: Sorry for loads of capitals and exclamation marks in my text but it was so full of wonders that I couldn’t contain myself 🙂

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