Open House Weekend! 22nd – Sunday 23rd September 2012

Posted on September 1, 2012

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Now in its 20th year, Open House is the annual event giving access to over 750 buildings across London – for FREE! Find out which buildings are open and when by searching the programme online www.londonopenhouse.org or picking up a free printed programme from the library! On both days a wide variety of churches are open, including many of the City of London churches, of which St Mary Abchurch is one of my favourites.

I love this building because it is a secret place and almost tardis like! Betjeman described it as a “complete surprise” and “one of the most beautiful in the city”. Rather than sitting on the brow of a hill or rising above the rooftops with a tall steeple, its location between King William Street and Cannon Street off a narrow lane, means that it’s easily missed. Founded in 1198 the present building was of course rebuilt after the Great Fire of London. Unlike the majority of Wren’s churches it is clad in brick and not stone. There is a tower, although it is set back away from the street. The entrance is across a small courtyard, formerly the churchyard, beneath which lies a vaulted crypt.

The first surprise comes after you enter the building into what is described as the best preserved Wren interiors in the country, despite being one of his smallest churches. The pulpit and reredos are carved limewood, with trailing fruit and flowers spilling out from elaborate urns. The reredos is by Grinling Gibbons and is his largest surviving work and contains the image of the Pelican feeding her young – a symbol of Christ and also that of Corpus Christi College Cambridge, who have appointed the incumbent since Elizabethan times. War damage left the reredos smashed to smithereens; each of the 2,000 pieces was painstakingly reassembled with support from the Friends of City Churches. The more up-market pews, which also date from Wrens time, have small kennels beneath for the benefit of parishioners who wished to bring their pets into church!

The second surprise comes when you look up and see the magnificent painted dome depicting the worship of heaven. There is no hint of a dome from the outside, yet it spans over forty feet with no visible buttresses or means of support other than the four brick walls of the church. It was one of Wren’s experiments with domes prior to the construction of St Paul’s Cathedral. Completed in 1686, the dome was painted in 1708 by a talented parishioner, William Snow, and incorporates the Divine Name in Hebrew characters.

The church is well worth a visit but not often open to the public at convenient times. Luckily  you can visit for a limited time on Open House weekend on Saturday from 1pm – 5pm and from Sunday from 10am to 12 noon. The nearest tube is Bank.

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