St Ethelburga’s: Centre of Peace in Liverpool Street
Walking along Bishopsgate, the view you’re largely confronted with is buildings on the up.
Towering glass office blocks including the Heron Tower and 100 Bishopsgate.
It makes it even more surprising then, when you see this little church; St Ethelburga’s, nestled in between them.
One of the smallest City Churches, it’s had an eventful past…
History of St Ethelburga’s
Its uncommon namesake comes from the 7th century leader of a monastic order, the first woman to ever lead one in England. She refused a marriage to a pagan prince so was appointed (or banished depending on how you look at it) to Barking Abbey by her brother in 675. Later she became known as St Ethelburga the Virgin.
The body of the church dates from c.1411, with the bell turret from 1775 and weathervane added in 1671.
Incredibly, it survived the Great Fire and Blitz unscathed, however its luck had run out in 1993. On April 24 an IRA bomb concealed in a lorry exploded in Bishopgate devastating the surrounding area and leaving the church as rubble.
Image of the damage from St Ethelburga’s website
All was not lost though. A whopping 70% was salvaged to rebuild the church and they even retrieved the 1671 weathervane!
A Look Inside
As well as the church you should definitely take in the surrounding tombs. For example this monument to Sir John Soane;
I’m a fan of the minimal way they’ve restored the insides, not trying to re-do the whole interior, and showing what’s left of the original.
This font, for example, was found pretty much intact in the wreckage. Around the rim is a Greek palindrome (reading the same forwards as backwards).
And another little panel, easily missed, reads; Come in good, leave better.
More details include the new stained glass window;
Designed by Helen Whittaker, it incorporates glass pieces from the original 19th century Kempe window here previously and shows St Ethelburga with a kind of jazzy stained glass cloak.
There’s surviving memorials too, but it was actually a modern one that caught my eye near the altar;
Indicative of St Ethelburga’s progressive and all-inclusive approach to faith.
Oh and – of course – don’t forget to look up! You’ll spot some charming angels from the original church, probably dating from the 19th century.
Today St Ethelburga’s has survived as a ‘Centre for Peace and Reconciliation’. As well as church services, they run events and training courses on themes of conflict and division, aiming to be a ‘maker of peacemakers’.
It can also be hired for corporate events and meetings. We’re in The City after all.
But one of the most extraordinary aspects is tucked behind the church.
Follow the passageway along the stone wall and you’ll find their hidden – and utterly peaceful -garden!
Sure, it might be a little overlooked with the new 100 Bishopsgate development…
But if you’re seeking solitude you can also slip off your shoes and head into the Bedouin tent around the corner.
St Ethelburga’s is open for visits every 1st and 3rd Monday of the month, but I’ve previously wandered in for a quick look unannounced, so do pop your head in if you’re passing Liverpool Street!
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