A London Church with a Starring Role

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Visitors to the Priory Church of St. Bartholomew the Great will immediately recognize the interior. This church has been a backdrop in many films including “Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves”, “Four Weddings and a Funeral”, “Shakespeare in Love”, “Sherlock Holmes” and “Snow White and the Huntsman”.

Founded by Augustinian monks in 1123, St. Bartholomew the Great has been an active church since 1143. Prior Rahere, a courtier to King Henry I, founded both this church and neighboring St. Bartholomew’s Hospital.

Tomb of Prior Rahere

Tomb of Prior Rahere

While initially a large church, following King Henry VIII’s break with Rome, in 1538 monasteries were dissolved and parts of the church were either sold off or demolished. While this church did survive the Great London Fire of 1666, unfortunately, the church was impacted by the plague epidemic in 1665. Visitors to the church will notice a black stone wall by the entrance, which used to be a plague pit to bury bodies. I have to admit I felt queasy knowing what I was standing near.

Inside the church

Inside the church

Famous parishioners include artist William Hogarth and a young Benjamin Franklin visited a former part of the church that had been converted into a workshop in 1725.

Font dating from 1405

Font dating from 1405

Both the organ and altar of this church are stunning and artistic. The church bells are over five hundred years old and were made at the same foundry which produced the U.S. Liberty Bell. Try to visit near the hour to hear the bells ring.

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St. Bartholomew the Great is a quiet church with few tourists and very enthusiastic staff. Admission is four pounds and the staff is happy to answer questions. Included in the back of the church in the Lady Chapel is a video on the church’s history.

The church also includes a Cloisters Café which offers coffee, tea, monastic beers (be careful pouring these!), wines, snacks and a light lunch in an incredible setting. Be sure to ask the staff about the trap doors in the floor, which open to a shallow grave!

Cloisters Cafe

Cloisters Cafe

While St. Bartholomew the Great is a little difficult to find, it’s worth the effort. Hidden behind a narrow 1500’s house near St. Paul’s tube station, this church is a treasure that movie buffs will know. I love visiting this church but visitors should be sure to check the website for hours, as the premises may be closed for filming.

Entrance to the church.

Entrance to the church.

Finally, when leaving the church, ask for directions across the street to the plaque commemorating the death of Sir William Wallace. Movie enthusiasts will recognize this name as “Braveheart”.

St. Bartholomew the Great
West Smithfield
London, EC1A 9DS
(0207)606-5171

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