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London’s Jewel – St. Bartholomew the Great

St. Bartholomew the Great from the outside Gate from the Hospital Sq. to the Church, 15th cent. West Entrance to St. Bart's Oldest Baptismal Font in Use in London Ambulatory at St. Bart's The Choir The Transcept The Choir Ceiling, last restored in the 1890s Ambulatory Windows, and thick Romanesque walls Original 1100s Romanesque arches, with later more "Gothic" Arches in Ambulatory The Thick Romanesque Piers Looking from the Ambulatory to the Choir Gothic or Tudor triparte windows Tudor era gate between the hospital and the church yard The External Layers of St. Bart's

Thanks to my high school World History instructor, Mr. Giroux, and my freshman in college history professor, Dr. B. Bradford Blaine , I have a deep and abiding first love of medieval art, architecture, history, and accomplishments (go visit the Magna Carta, if you doubt anything good could have come from 450 A.D. to 1500 A.D.).
Mr. Giroux was the best sort of extra bright and eccentric teacher for a 15 year old to have. He taught several generations of high school students and was a couple of years away from retirement by the time I passed through his class in 1982-1983. He started out the day by saying to me, “Miss Hanen, your uncle John (class of 1969) was one of the best students I have ever had, I expect you to do better.” I had no choice, I did. When my brother arrived the next year, Joe received the following speach, “Mr. Hanen, your uncle John and your sister Jenifer were two of the best students I have ever had, I expect you to do better.” He didn’t, but Joe still loves all things history and medieval regardless of his performance in Mr. Giroux’s class.
Long memories and family jokes aside, Mr. Giroux spent about 1/3 of the year covering the middle ages when they were only 1,000 years out of a potential 10,000 to cover. Mr. Giroux was openly and deeply in love with Eleanor of Aquitaine, of which their separation in centuries and stations in life is why he never married. Best of all, when Mr. Giroux retired the LA Times did a big article on his full scale model of Aquitaine that inhabited his whole living room and took 30 years to build.
How could one not fall in love with all things 500 – 1500 A.D. with a 9th grade history teacher like Mr. Giroux?


In my first year of college at Scripps College in Claremont, CA, I took my Humanities 50 class with Dr. Bradford Blaine. Dr. Blaine covered the arts, architecture, sociology, religious, political, and gender implications of 1000 to 1350 AD in as many primary sources as possible. We read the Magna Carta, we read Urban II’s declaration of the First Crusade. We read the Abbot Suger of St. Denis’s treastie on architecture, the neo-platonism of the Scholastics, among others. It was in this class that I fell in love with Romanesque and Gothic architecture. It is for Dr. Blaine’s class and a few others that I went to college for.
Every time I go to Europe, I take time out of my schedule to make sure that I visit one of the jewels of Romanesque or Gothic Architecture. In 2002, it was Durham Cathedral; last year, it was a 2nd visit to Salisbury Cathedral; this Oct., Family Hicks took me to Oxford Castle. Today, I went for my 2nd visit to St. Bartholomew the Great, the oldest extant church in London that is still in active use. St. Bart’s is the only Romanesque church left in London and it is a true gem.
St. Bart’s was founded as a monastery priory in 1123. The Nave and other parts of the building were destroyed during the Henry the VIII’s pillage of the Roman Catholic church. St. Bart’s has been worked on and restored a number of times over the years, although the nave has not been replaced. St. Bart’s withstood Henry the VIII, the Reformation and neglect afterwards, the Great Blitz of 1940, etc. The Bell tower was added in the 18th Century, the wooden ceiling last restored in the 1890s. The best part about St. Bart’s that it is alive. It is loved. It has an active congregation and life in the here and now, 884 years after the first foundation stone was laid.
I came today about 10 minutes before closing, but was allowed to walk the Ambulatory, view the Damien Hurst sculpture of St. Bartholomew on loan from the artist, and take as many photos as I wanted to. I am not a big fan of Mr. Hurst, but his sculpture was perfect for the ambulatory alcove it was in. Hurst’s contemporary rendering of the sufferings of St. Bartholomew is a perfect foil for the Romanesque heaviness of the stone arches and pillars in the ambulatory. Please go visit before the sculpture goes back to Mr. Hurst.
Regardless, if in London, take the Tube to St. Paul’s, follow the signs (a bit confusing) to St. Bartholomew’s hospital, and either turn down St. Bartolomew’s Close or in the Square between the Hospital and Smithfield’s Market, turn into the 15th century gate that is pictured above.
If I lived in London, I would attend this church for myself, for Mr. Giroux, for Dr. Blaine, and for life.