Searching for the InvisibleYou are about to embark on a journey that will pull you deeper into the heart of London. I will share only a single day of my London experience, using images and text. Thephotographs that follow do their best to capture what I saw, but they are only snapshots of amoment, a place, a person. My words provide adeeper meaning behind the photos, yet they too are attempting to relay the inexplicable. Still, Ihope this journey allows you to see the city in a new light. Only by looking deeper, questioning more, and embracing new knowledge, will we be able to find a London invisible to most.
This project began as a “Day Walk,” inspired by Charles Dickens’s essay, “Night Walks.” Dickens suffered from insomnia, so he walked the streets of London at night. On these walks, he discovered people and places that others often overlooked. Iwanted to embark on a similar walk in order to find a hidden layer of London and form a meaningful,personal connection to the city. My goal for this walkwas to visit fifteen churches. I was able to see everychurch on my list, though I was only allowed inside a few of them. On this walk, I realized that these churches were invisible. Everyone on the streets rushed by on their way to jobs, meetings, or meals.When I entered these churches, I was almost always alone. The magnificent churches concealed layers upon layers of history, but no one took the time to stop and visit. My “Day Walk” allowed me to see an invisible piece of the puzzle that is London.
Numerous paradoxes make up another pieceof this puzzle. As you will see in the following images, the churches I visited often exist in the shadows of high-rise offices. Many are boxed in by restaurants, shops, or otherbuildings. The sterile exteriors of the Gherkin and Lloyd’s paradoxically reside beside churches that remain standing on their medieval foundations. Another paradox I found on my walk was the history of church usage. Looking at the history of each church, I saw a mirror of London’s past. The churches played important roles duringdifferent eras, yet the paradox lies in the vast role-changes over time.
The final piece of the puzzle resides in a specific church—St. Ethelburga’s, known now as The Centre for Reconciliation and Peace. During mystay in London, I searched for a “room” that could encapsulate my experience in all its glory (yes, perhaps I put too much pressure on finding the perfect “room,” but the search wassuccessful). For much of the trip, I thought I wouldfind a park that could capture my view of London.It came as a complete surprise when I discovered St. Ethelburga’s. This room is comprised of notonly the church, but also “The Tent” located in itsmemorial garden. St. Ethelburga’s operates within London’s “society of rooms” and its role in this society captures my London experience.
St. Botolph without Bishopsgate Bishopsgate, once home to wealthy Londoners, is now home to numerous office buildings. The church looked so peaceful amidst the heavy traffic on the road and sidewalks.
St. Botolph without Bishopsgate Walking into this church, I found its well-lit atmosphere very open and welcoming. It’s hard to imagine that crusaders and Templar Knights faced charges of corruption here in the 14th century!
St. Botolph without Bishopsgate St. Botolph’s also has positive claims to fame—John Keats was baptized in this church. Its stained glass window was my favorite out of all the churches due to its vibrant colors and the emotional scene it depicts.
St. Botolph without Bishopsgate St. Botolph’s was badly damaged during the IRA bombs, and this stained-glass window was created as a memorial. Fortunately, the church was restored and re-opened in 1997.
St. Botolph without Bishopsgate I wanted to explore the church’s garden and encountered this simple building. It used to be used as a charity school. It is now defunct and, thus, the church is no longer a social hub.
St. Botolph without Bishopsgate This grave marker caught my eye, and I have yet to figure out the reason for this arm. I felt it was an eerie reminder of the body buried underneath the site, reaching out to be noticed.
Turkish Bathhouse As I set off for the next church, I passed by this little gem. Its minute size was countered by its intricate tile designs, showcasing the best of Islamic architecture. This was a visual reminder of the diversity of the city, which the identical office blocks tend to overshadow.
All Hallows London Wall All Hallows London Wall actually stands on the foundations of the historic Roman and medieval wall around the city. Walking along the side of the wall, I didn’t even realize it was a church until I reached its entrance!
All Hallows London Wall The interior of All Hallows was much smaller than its exterior suggested. The nave lacks pews because this church is now a “Guild Church.” In other words, it no longer has parish responsibilities.
All Hallows London Wall Since All Hallows no longer functions as regular church, it often houses art exhibits for charitable foundations. The painting on the left is from an exhibit open while I was there. The painting on the right, “Ananias restoring sight to St. Paul,” is a permanent feature of All Hallows.
Dutch Church, Austin Friars In 1253, an Augustinian monastery was founded on this site. During the Reformation, the monastery was shut down and became a church for Protestant Dutch refugees.
Dutch Church, Austin Friars The Dutch Church’s claim to fame is its status as the oldest Dutch-language Protestant church in the world. The church was damaged during the Blitz and reconstructed in a minimal, modern style.
Dutch Church, Austin Friars Though the church was not open when I visited, it still operates as an independent parish church. As you can see from its sign, the church conducts its services completely in Dutch.
Tower 42 This imposing building was a sight to behold on my way to the next church, St. Ethelburga’s. Many of the churches I visited are located beneath the shadow of Tower 42, the seventh tallest building in London.
St. Ethelburga’s St. Ethelburga’s is the smallest church in the City of London. It is now the Centre for Reconciliation and Peace. Its slogan, “Building relationships across divisions,” perfectly describes my special “room.”
St. Ethelburga’s Though the church was closed, I walked through a tiny passage to visit its memorial garden. Even though it was boxed in by office buildings, I immediately felt a sense of serenity as I entered the “room.”
St. Ethelburga’s At the back of the garden, a door led to “The Tent.” “The Tent” looks exactly like its inspiration—a Bedouin tent.
St. Ethelburga’s A sign hanging on the side of “The Tent” explains that the space was built for the “meeting of faiths.” Its door declares in multiple languages, “And be at Peace among yourselves.”
St. Ethelburga’s Entering the Tent is like entering another world. This was the perfect haven, separated from the city and any associated problems. It sounds cliché, but a wave of acceptance and peace washed over me when I entered the Tent.
St. Ethelburga’s The Tent was a room that welcomed all people, no matter their religion or walk of life. It even had a tiny bookshelf that contained the holy books of multiple religions.
St. Ethelburga’s There were seven windows in the Tent. Each one looked similar except for the word at its base. Every window said the word “Peace” in a different language.
St. Ethelburga’s As I was soaking in the Tent’s ambience, a huge group of children began coming in, bringing instruments, noise, and contagious excitement. They told me they were about to give a concert inside the church, and I obviously had to see this adorable
St. Ethelburga’s This concert was part of a conference, World Music in Education. According to the group’s director, these children “supported one another” as they played, conducted, and composed music.
St. Ethelburga’s This amazing concert functioned to bring distant groups together and demonstrate ideal interactions among diverse groups of people. Holding events like this concert, St. Ethelburga’s encourages peace amidst diversity and spreads this message throughout London’s “society of rooms.”
St. Helen Bishopsgate Hidden underneath the Gherkin lies St. Helen Bishopsgate. St. Helen’s appears to have two naves because it historically was separated into two sections, one for nuns and one for parishioners.
St. Helen Bishopsgate St. Helen’s was closed when I visited, but it is said to hold many monuments from the pre-Great Fire era. The inscription above the entrance reads, “Heaven and Earth will pass away but my words will never pass away.”
St. Andrew Undershaft St. Andrew Undershaft is one of the few complete late medieval churches still standing in London, but I could not get inside the rarely-open church. “Undershaft” refers to a maypole that stood beside the church but, during the Reformation, was chopped down and burned as a “heathen
St. Katherine Cree St. Katherine Cree does not stand out as a church and its entrance is easy to miss. Though the church was almost completely destroyed during the Reformation, its tower remained and dates back to 1504.
St. Katherine Cree St. Katherine’s was another very well-lit church with an astounding stained- glass window above the altar. The ribbed ceiling actually contains the arms of every City Livery Company that has used the church.
Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue Though this building is obviously not a church, it holds great importance as the oldest surviving synagogue in England. The gated courtyard was closed, so this was as close as I could get to the 18th century synagogue.
St. Botolph without Aldgate Though surrounded on all sides by busy roads, St. Botolph’s has an impressive history. A church has stood on this site for almost one thousand years! During the Victorian era, the red-light district was located nearby, so St. Botolph’s was known as the “Prostitutes’ church.”
St. Botolph without Aldgate Walking in the front doors, I entered the interesting baptistery. It held a few monuments, but this one was the most colorful and ominous. This monument is dedicated to Robert Dow, a master of the Merchant Taylors Company.
St. Botolph without Aldgate St. Botolph’s has connections with several famous literary figures. The best-known connection is to author Daniel Defoe, who was married in this church in the late seventeenth century.
St. Botolph without Aldgate Currently this church focuses on its ministry to the area’s poor. The crypt has been used to house homeless men and was described by poet John Betjeman as “more a mission to the East End than a City church.”
Crutched Friars Monument On my way to the next church, I passed by the two Crutched Friars built into a corner of a building. This statue memorializes the abbey that existed here until the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
St. Olave Hart Street St. Olave’s namesake is Norwegian king, Olaf Haraldson. Olaf saved London in the Battle of London Bridge in 1014. His actions actually inspired the famous “London Bridge” nursery rhyme!
St. Olave Hart Street When I entered St. Olave’s, I saw a homeless man in the back pew sleeping. I found it sort of shocking that he was the only person I ran across in my church journey. It proved, once again, that these churches are invisible unless you want or, in his case, need to look carefully.
St. Olave Hart Street Skulls appear over the gates of St. Olave’s churchyard, known as “St. Ghastly Grim.” Charles Dickens, the inspiration for my Walk, wrote of how he “once felt drawn to [St. Ghastly Grim] in a thunderstorm at midnight.”
All Hallows by the Tower Approaching storm clouds cast All Hallows by the Tower in a forbidding light. The Blitz almost completely destroyed All Hallows, but this led to the discovery of the church’s Roman and Anglo-Saxon foundations.
All Hallows by the Tower All Hallows has American historical connections. William Penn was baptized in the church and later imprisoned in the Tower nearby. The sixth U.S. president, John Quincy Adams, was married in this church.
St. Dunstan in the East St. Dunstan is no longer a church but, rather, the remains of one. The Blitz destroyed the church, so only the tower and the shell of the nave still stand.
St. Dunstan in the East Beautiful flowers, vines, and trees grow throughout the shell of the church. The tower is now home to The Wren, a Centre for Natural Health and Counselling, named after St. Dunstan’s architect.
St. Mary at Hill The entrance to St. Mary’s is hard to find, but it is worth the search. The church was almost torn down during the construction of the Underground in 1894. 3,000 bodies were removed from the crypt in preparation!
St. Mary at Hill In 1988, a fire tore through St. Mary’s and destroyed most of the interior. Though the restoration is almost finished, there are still no pews or altar, so the church feels quite empty and hollow.
St. Margaret Pattens Christopher Wren rebuilt St. Margaret’s, as he did many City churches. Its spire truly stands out from the office blocks surrounding it, and it is the third highest City church spire.
St. Margaret Pattens Inside St. Margaret’s, people were setting up for an event (part of Celebrate the City). On my way out, I passed by an exhibit that contained actual “pattens.” “Pattens” were wooden clogs that helped Londoners walk through the filth and debris covering medieval roads.
St. Magnus the Martyr St. Magnus was closed, so I was not able to explore the inside like I had hoped. But this church was very important as one of the ends of London Bridge, making it the busiest entry point into medieval London.
With my journey complete, I felt like I had unlocked a layer of London. My Day Walk provided me with proof of the paradoxes existing in such a multifaceted city. It also allowed me to discover a “room” of my own, which could explain the lessons Ilearned about diversity and understanding. Igained insight into the complexity of London and, in the end, found my own “Invisible City.”The city, however, does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand.” -Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
Works Cited Millar, Stephen. London’s City Churches. London: Metro Publications, 2011. Print.