St. Benet Gracechurch


St. Benet Gracechurch

Infobox church
name = St. Benet Gracechurch
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caption = Current Photo of site
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denomination = Roman Catholic, Anglican
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demolished_date = 1868
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address = London
country = United Kingdom
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St. Benet Gracechurch (or Grass Church), so called because a haymarket existed nearby (Cobb), was a church in the City of London first recorded in the eleventh century. Destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, it was one of the 51 churches rebuilt by the office of Sir Christopher Wren. The church was demolished in 1868.

History

‘St. Benet’ is short for ‘St. Benedict’ and this was one of 4 churches in pre-Fire London dedicated to St. Benedict of Nursia, the 6th century founder of Western monasticism. Several streets in medieval London were named after the produce sold there, such as Milk Street and Bread Street. Gracechurch meant “Grass Church”, referring to the site of a hay market.

The earliest surviving reference to the church is in a 1053 charter of Brihtmaer conveying a church in Gracechurch Street to Christ Church, Canterbury. The dedication to St. Benedict is first recorded during the reign of Henry III.

At the beginning of the reign of Mary I, the churchwardens paid 3s. 4d. to a plasterer to remove the Biblical texts painted on the interior walls during the time of her Protestant brother Edward VI. Shortly afterwards, church records recount that a Te Deum was sung ‘ for the birth of our Prince – which was thought then to be’ – one of Mary’s phantom pregnancies.

The parish records include a Grace Church, a foundling left to be cared for by the parish.

According to John Strype, the St. Benet was repaired and beautified in 1630 and 1633. All was destroyed in the Great Fire. The parish was combined with that of St. Leonard Eastcheap in 1670 and rebuilding of the church began in 1681. The 1686 accounts include an entry of £1 14s 0d ‘to wine and sweetmeats for treating the Lord Mayor at the opening of the Church’, although work on the spire continued into the following year. The total cost of the church was £4583.

In 1791, Dr. George Gaskin, the secretary of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge became rector at St. Benet’s. His society work entailed co-ordinating the distribution of bibles and other religious works throughout the British Isles. In 1797, he took up the position of rector of the church of Stoke Newington, while maintaining the benefice of St. Benet.

The second half of the 19th century saw a movement of population from the City of London to suburbs in Middlesex, Kent, Essex and Surrey. This left many of the city churches with tiny congregations, while many of the newly built suburbs had no churches. The Union of Benefices Act 1860 was passed by Parliament, permitting the demolition of City churches and the sale of land to build churches in the suburbs. St. Benet Gracechurch was demolished in 1868 so that Gracechurch Street could be widened. The land was sold for £24,000 and the proceeds used to build St. Benet Mile End Road. The parish was combined with that of nearby All Hallows Lombard Street and the furnishings distributed among several churches. The outstanding pulpit is now in St Olave Hart Street.

The site, at the intersection of Gracechurch and Fenchurch Streets, is now occupied by a 1997 seven story office block.

The building

St. Benet Gracechurch was built in the shape of a rectangle with five round headed windows on the main, north front, above which were five round windows. There was a balustrade on the roof of the church.

The tower, in the north west corner, was square. Above the belfry window was a broken pediment, containing a small window. The tower was surmounted by a lead covered dome, decorated with cartouches. On top of the dome was a square entablature, comprising four arches with pediments. From the entablature emerged a tall spire, with a flag finial at the top, making the whole 149 feet high.

The interior was a single cell with a groined vault. The east wall above the reredos was painted to look like a crimson and gold curtain.

St. Benet Gracechurch was one of only two Wren churches never to have an organ.

References

*Jeffery, Paul. The city churches of Sir Christopher Wren, Hambledon Press, 1996
*Ellen,R.G. A London steeplechase, City Press, 1972
*Cobb,Gerald. London city churches, B T Batsford Ltd., 1977

External links


Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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