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The Genius of Wren


a walking tour
in the City of London



Friday
18th July 2014



Churches of God surrounded by Temples of Mammon

On a very hot day a full coach set off to assemble for coffee in the crypt of St Paul's Cathedral before a feast of architecture and City of London sight lines led by our guides Tony Tucker (who had lectured to CDFAS in May) and Karen Chester.  The City churches were Wren’s laboratory; St Paul's Cathedral his masterpiece.  He was known as a “virtuoso” since the profession of architect did not exist in England before his time.

The churches visited, out of the 44 associated with Sir Christopher Wren, included St Vedast alias Foster, St Mary le Bow, St Mary Aldermary, St Stephen Walbrook and St Mary Abchurch.  Each was a masterpiece of some aspect of Wren’s work.  Several churches were of irregular shape, influenced by the surviving medieval street pattern.  Wren, after the great fire, used what was sound and spent money where it could be seen, usually in towers and in interiors.  This meant that many beautiful churches looked from the outside like a jigsaw of building materials.

 
 
On Cheapside - a survivor of the Great Fire

Externally, a feature of the tour was the combination of unexpected views and juxtaposition of Wren towers and steeples with modern monuments to financial services.  Our guides explained how many of the tiny plots of open ground or garden in the City are in fact the place of a former church or burial ground.  Street names gave a context to history, centred on Cheapside that was the main market thoroughfare. 

The style of church interiors was uniquely Wren, with a variety of layouts both forward and side facing pews.  Highlights include the “camembert” altar by Henry Moore in St Stephen Walbrook, the oak and lime wood reredos by Grinling Gibbons and painted dome in St Mary Abchurch, and the fan vaulted plaster ceiling in St Mary Aldermary. 



Ancient and modern ...

in St Mary le Bow
and St Stephen Walbrook

It was a wonderful experience to see and enjoy so much of a concentration of English church building in the unique City setting.  A worry will continue to be how such architecture is maintained and repaired, since the modern neighbours see monetary value in every square foot.  The Friends of the City Churches have a constant challenge.


Text by Stephen Dennison

Photos by Jonathan Cross and David Finnigan



Related Links (open in new window):

The Friends of the City Churches
Visiting churches in the City of London



Cranleigh DFAS members surveying the spires of Wren's churches
from the spectacular roof terrace of One New Change