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“Best church in London. Probably.” 5 of 5 bubbles
Review of Church of St. Bartholomew the Great

Church of St. Bartholomew the Great
Ranked #286 of 1,568 things to do in London
Certificate of Excellence
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Attraction details
Recommended length of visit: <1 hour
London, United Kingdom
Level Contributor
266 reviews
62 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 261 helpful votes
“Best church in London. Probably.”
5 of 5 bubbles Reviewed 11 August 2014 via mobile

Great St Barts was founded in 1123 and has been at the centre of virtually everything ever since. It was just outside the church gates that Braveheart (yes, that one) met his very grisly end in 1305. It was here that Wat Tyler and Richard the Second faced each other down over the peasants revolt of 1381. There was a ducking pond for witches outside, and those that didn't float were not guilty but drowned anyway, and those that did float were burned. And they say justice isn't blind?? Smithfield was also used as a tilt yard and a market place among much else, and for hundreds of years this church was at the centre of it. In later times there was even a wife market outside, as divorces were too expensive for commoners and one could sell on an unrequired wife (yes, really) as late as the Georgian period. The well-named Bloody Mary had her opponents burned here, facing towards the church on the offchance that their souls might get to heaven after all. The church was given by her father, Henry VIII, to Sir Richard Rich (he was in the Tudors TV series if that helps) during the 16th century reformation of the church, and was eventually bought back by the locals. The cloister was demolished and is now partially reconstructed as one of London's most unusual cafés, with excellent and large slabs of cake. The entrance to the path leading to the front door marks the end of the original nave, so what remains is a lot smaller than the original church. It is, however, superb. It's solid and dark. It's not frilly or fussy. Its so ancient it feels as if it's breathing, and that all the stones have become one indivisible structure. It's early Norman so many of the characteristics are Saxon in origin; it was after all founded only about 60 years after the Conquest. The form of the vault makes the acoustics just superb...try to attend evensong or any choral effort here if you get a chance. The church was established by a slightly eccentric monk named Rahere who went to Rome and promptly caught malaria. Being nursed back to health by nuns of the order of St Bartholomew, he was startled to be visited by a devil who ordered him to return to Smithfield and build a church and hospital. He returned, started the project and dropped dead before it's completion. The church and St Barts hospital (which contains St Barts the Less church) are testament to him and those who came after, notably the energetic William Bolton whose mark (a barrel [tun] transfixed by a crossbow bolt) can be seen in at least one of the stained glass windows that he had built so he could keep an eye on the lazy monks working in the gardens outside. The church achieved some prominence in the Tudor period and a chancellor is buried there...spot the most tasteless tomb in the place. Also some rather charming double memorials, and bilingual Latin/English inscriptions, as this was the period that the church really loosened its hold on society. William Hogarth the famous artist and satirist was christened here in the font that yet remains, and Benjamin Franklin worked in the back room as a journeyman printer before legging it for the States where he became...something or other. If all of this doesn't grab you then perhaps this will. You have already seen this church. It's been in the Other Boleyn Girl, Shakespeare in Love and Robin Hood...and indeed any other film requiring dark and Mediaeval church aesthetics...and if THAT wasn't enough, this is also where Duckface punches Hugh Grant in the face in Four Weddings and a Funeral...and that has to be worth a look. The only objection I have to the church is the fact that they charge to enter, but bearing in mind that it does go to the restoration of this glorious old pile, I am more or less mollified. Go see it. You will love it.

Visited August 2014
11 Thank LSO1973
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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167 reviews from our community

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English first
London, United Kingdom
Level Contributor
77 reviews
47 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 71 helpful votes
“A Quiet Beautiful Ancient Church”
4 of 5 bubbles Reviewed 20 July 2014

I am not religious, but I regularly visit churches to have some quiet contemplation. St. Barts is special to me, as in the sixties, my late wife and I watched our young children perform a nativity play in this church with their school.

It has an atmosphere, that is so wonderful, that you never get in churches visited by tourists.

It's also one end of a nice walk, which takes you randomly around the meat market and on to the Barbican, looking at some of the most interesting buildings in London.

Nearby too, in the meat market is a board describing how the wife market worked. That is truly one of London's curiosities.

Visited October 2013
1 Thank AnonWidr
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
1 review
“Wonderful all round”
5 of 5 bubbles Reviewed 14 July 2014

A truely halcyon and beautiful place to enjoy superb coffee and lovely service from staff. Was looking forward to going and Cloisters did not disappoint. The cakes are very morish too! We will visit again soon. Karl and Marlene x

Visited July 2014
Thank Karl F
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
London, United Kingdom
2 reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 4 helpful votes
“Great cafe”
5 of 5 bubbles Reviewed 9 July 2014

Stunning church and lovely cafe: reasonably priced w/generous portions and completely empty, despite being lunchtime midweek in the City. Pretty garden to sit in outside

Visited July 2014
Thank Mossywitt
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
London, United Kingdom
Level Contributor
27 reviews
6 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 18 helpful votes
5 of 5 bubbles Reviewed 5 July 2014

An absolutely amazing part of not only London, but british history. Learnt so much about the city I lived in all my life. A truly beautiful and spiritual place. I wouldn't be able to justify why you should visit it enough. Words just can't explain.

Visited March 2014
Thank Ontherun1975
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC

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