Everyone probably knows where Southwark Cathedral is but doesn’t realise its importance to London and Londoners. There has been a place of worship on this site for over 1,000 years and this building is the oldest in Southwark and probably one of the oldest in the capital too.
The sadness for me however is that this piece of history has been treated so badly by those that run London’s infrastructure – you can see from The View from The Shard that it is completely encircled by encroaching buildings, Borough Market and the railway system coming into London Bridge.
Perhaps though this is how it has retained its relevance as no-one can ever say that it is not in the heart of the community! It is said that it was built by St Swithun, Bishop of Winchester, at around 852 to 862 AD although it has been rebuilt several times since, what we see today probably dates from the 1830’s.
Remnants of the old cathedral can still be seen today including this carved stone screen behind the high altar which dates from around 1520. It became known as Southwark Cathedral in 1905 and its diocese today stretches from the Thames to Gatwick Airport, from Thamesmead in the east almost to Thames Ditton in the west.
I particularly love some of the oddities here such as this wooden Knight. It’s possible that it represents a member of the Warenne family, benefactors of the Priory with several family members buried in the church. This much restored wooden effigy is one of the earliest known in England – carved around 1280 – 1300.
The above memorial celebrates playwright William Shakespeare (he’s not buried here but his younger brother Edmund is) who lived and worked in this area when Bankside was home to all of London’s Elizabethan theatres. It was a rough old place with a “mixed clientele” for the church – not only merchants, minor courtiers and actors but also foreign craftsmen and ladies from the Bankside brothels!
Perhaps the most poignant memorial for me (as it happened when I lived in London) is the memorial for the 51 victims of the Marchioness riverboat disaster when it collided with the Bow Belle in 1989. I always pause here when I visit.
Whatever your reasons for coming to a cathedral, I have to say this music recital was incredible in that space – and as it’s close Borough Market, the City and London Bridge, you can easily pop into it for a lunchtime concert.
I thought I would leave you with this image – it always makes me chuckle – it’s as if Mr Chaucer was going to come back any minute! Someone at Southwark definitely has a sense of humour! Do go visit soon.
Contributor and photographer: Sue Lowry
Southwark Cathedral is on twitter: @SouthwarkCathed and on Facebook/SouthwarkCathedral.
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