St Lawrence Jewry next Guildhall is a Wren Church, one of 51 he built after the Great Fire of London, and this is considered to be his most expensive. In the heart of central London, it has an ornate interior and also the only depiction of Wren himself in a stained glass window.
St Lawrence Jewry is near the London Guildhall, the heart of municipal London. Photograph ©Diego Delso
The first question that puzzles visitors about this church is answered by a plaque outside; how does it come by its extraordinary name? The explanation is that the church, first built in the 12th century, sits in the area of the City occupied by a Jewish community from 1066 – 1290. The name was coined to distinguish it from another St Lawrence, which existed nearby until it was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. It is now the official church of the Lord Mayor of London and the City of London Corporation and stands in the Yard of the Guildhall, hence the addition to its title.
This St Lawrence was also destroyed by the Great Fire but, happily, was one of the 16 churches handed to Sir Christopher Wren to be redesigned and was completed in 1677. Extensively damaged in the Blitz of 1940, the interior was restored in 1957 to Wren’s original design, while the exterior walls of the 17th century still stand.
The interior of the church has few right angles, and is expansively decorated with gold leaf.
It is often described as Wren’s most expensive church, and its richly decorated interior with white walls adorned by gold leaf designs on the columns and in the roof space pay testament to that. Although the pews and furniture are of dark wood, the windows have stained glass only in their centres, so that the impression is one of light rather than gloom. The organ at the west end is grand and imposing and it is something of a surprise to learn that it was built by Johannes Klais Orgelbau of Bonn, Germany, as recently as 2001, and is considered to be one of the finest organs in the world. There are regular organ recitals held in the church.
The magnificent Klais organ was built around specifications used for the pre-Blitz organ.
This Commonwealth side chapel has a wrought iron screen which was made by the Royal Marines.
Astonishingly the church register of baptisms survived the Blitz, the heat making the vellum shrink rather than burn. This artefact is now on display. There are two windows of particular interest; one is of Sir Thomas More, a one-time lecturer in the original church and Chancellor of England during the reign of Henry VIII, who was born in Milk Street, only a few steps away.
The other is in the vestibule at the back and can be missed unless you deliberately seek it out. This window depicts Sir Christopher Wren, Grinling Gibbons, his master carver who worked with him on St. Paul’s Cathedral, and Edward Strong, his master mason, who worked with Wren on many of his creations, including St. Pauls. It is the only depiction of Wren in stained glass anywhere and shows him holding a pair of compasses and plans to the church.
The Wren window shows him surrounded by the tools of his trade and the labourers which built his creations.
A small chapel near the entrance is dedicated to the Royal Marines: this church is their official London base.
Before you leave, take a look at the tiny chapel near the entrance to the church which is dedicated to the Royal Marines. The candle stand is in the shape of a gridiron – the symbol of St Lawrence who was martyred on a gridiron during the Roman persecution of Christians in the 3rd century BC. And, as a final reminder of the patron saint of this church, look up as you leave. The weather vane depicts a gridiron too, and the shaft supporting it is part of the WWII incendiary bomb responsible for the burning of the church in 1940.
Visiting St Lawrence Jewry next Guildhall
Monday – Friday: 09h00 – 17h00
Reduced hours in August, see website for details
Entrance is free
Nearest tube station: Bank