St Katharine Cree a Survivor From Before the Great Fire

St Katharine Cree is one of the few City churches to have survived the Great Fire of 1666. It is situated on Leadenhall Street in the north-east of the City. The fire which began in Faryner’s bakery in Pudding Lane was propelled onwards by a wind which was unusual in its strength and direction – coming from the south-east. The flames which were pushed north-west did huge damage but left about one-fifth of the City in the north-east unharmed. 

The church was rebuilt in 1628 to 1630 under the aegis of the bishop of London, William Laud. Only the tower, dating from 1504, was retained. Laud was a leader of the anti-Calvinist, high-church faction within the Church of England. His views were popular with the king Charles I, but anathema to puritans who saw his devotion to church ceremonial and ornaments as being popish. His dedication service of St Katharine would later be cited against him as an example of popery in his trial in 1645, which led to his execution.

The church is a mixture of the gothic and the classical. The nave has classical columns with Corinthian capitals and round arches in the nave. The ceiling is flat, but is covered with ribbing   and is decorated with prominent bosses, just as in a medieval church. Both porches are thoroughly classical, and the windows in the nave are in the shape of rectangles with a raised centre, but within the glass is set within gothic arches.

The east window was reminiscent of the great window old St Paul’s. For Laud marking continuity with the medieval

Unidentified painter, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

cathedral was a way of emphasising the importance of tradition in England, whereas for Puritans the cathedrals were associated with impure accretions to a once pristine Christianity. They would later use the old cathedral as a stables during the Interregnum.

The original St Katharine Cree was built in the thirteenth century. It stood within the precinct of Holy Trinity Priory, a small portion of which still stands inside an office block at the end of Leadenhall Street. The prior wanted parishioners to have their own church to avoid them disturbing the canons in the priory church. ‘Cree’ is a corruption of ‘Christchurch’.

Inside the church is the prominent tomb of Elizabethan diplomat Sir Nicholas Throckmorton. This was reunited with an alabaster carving from its top a few years ago (see article in The Guardian dated 21 December 2016), thanks to a dealer who had bought it in good faith in Brussels. The carving had been stolen some time previously, but no one was quite sure when.

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