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Review: Faith in the City of London by Niki Gorick

Faith in the CityThere are over 50 places of worship in the City of London, serving many faiths. In times gone by there were many more. Dozens of churches have been lost down the years to fire, the Blitz and town planning, St. Paul’s being chief among them. Most have risen from the ashes – resurgam – and many others have disappeared forever. A tiny handful, such as St Olave Hart Street, miraculously swerved disaster. The sad ruins of a couple – St Dunstan-in-the-East, Christ Church Greyfriars –  remind us of what we have lost.

Still, you may think that many is a good many for just a square mile (+/-). But, actually, they have a lot of ground to cover, and not just ecumenically. The City comprises 26 Wards and is also the home to over a hundred livery companies, most of them dating from medieval times. In addition there are dozens of military units attached to the Square Mile in some way. Virtually all of these institutions have a bond with one or more church. Then there is their relationship with City Hall itself. Throw this into the mix of actual ecumenical work and you will soon appreciate how busy and vibrant the City’s religious institutions are and have to be.

This new book by Niki Gorick covers all of this. She has been taking pictures in the City for many years with exhibitions at the Guildhall and elsewhere. This project is the culmination of over 200 individual shoots over several years. In the Preface she explains why the City’s religious institutions are so vibrant, an incongruous situation for many who only see the Square Mile’s ‘reputation as a financially obsessed powerhouse’. She writes, rather, of the ‘hidden and surprisingly vibrant world of worship, stretching out into many different faiths’. She explores in the pages that follow, the ‘multi-layered interaction between faith and commerce within its tight geographical confines’.

It would be easy and obvious to include church images which are purely architectural. There are none. This is because – first, foremost and throughout – this is a book about people, where architectural features – windows, columns, porches whatever –  play a supporting role. As you would expect, the ordained feature most strongly. At the head we have two bishops of London: the outgoing Richard Chartres; and his successor, London’s first woman Bishop, Sarah Mullally whose brilliant and natural smile shines from several of these pages. There are the ‘characters’, some of whom you might know:  Archdeacon Luke Miller, a regular on Twitter; Rev David Parrott of St Lawrence Jewry; Bertrand Olivier, formerly of All Hallows by the Tower; Rose Hudson-Wilkin and many more. Their enthusiasm and dedication for all to see.

Interfaith dialogue - The Rt. Rev. & Rt. Hon. Dame Sarah Mullaly

Bishop Sarah Mullally with Archbishop Angaelos, Coptic Orthodox Church.

And then, of course, their congregations. Some might be ordinary worshippers, others functionaries, musicians, bell ringers and so on. Still others are ordinary members of the public in the streets, bemused perhaps to see congregationalists of St Bride’s rolling eggs down Fleet Street at Easter; or a donkeys being welcomed at St Giles Cripplegate during Holy Week.

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Faith in the City of London is divided into 10 Chapters which address various types of religious roles and activities. Broadly speaking, the early chapters deal with ecumenical matters, mainly pertaining to service and ceremony. There is a lot of emphasis on diversity of worship. Inevitably, most of the ‘action’ relates to the ministry of the predominant, established order: the Church of England. However, the author has given  much space to other Christian denominations – Roman Catholic, Romanian Orthodox, Welsh Presbyterians etc. – along with Jewish worshippers of Bevis Marks; and other non-Christian faiths which lack their own buildings but nonetheless are catered for, in particular Muslims and Sikhs.

500_The first fire of Easter at St Barts

The first fire of Easter at St Barts.

500-Muslim Friday prayers at Wax Chandlers

Muslim Friday prayers at Wax Chandlers’ Hall.

The second half of the book, roughly, looks at the history of faith in the City as well as the very rich topic of music. Quirky and ancient ceremonies such as Beating the Bounds and the Knollys Rose ceremony; the Great Fire and more recently, celebrating the Siege of Malta every August. Of course the City’s churches have a centuries old bell-ringing and choral tradition alongside organ music. In addition they are venues for a plethora of other music – military, classical, jazz, folk, rock, world – all of it (Top Tip: the City is a fabulous place for a free concert, especially at lunch time!).

The end of the book examines other functions of City churches, as venues for anything from corporate lunches to yoga. It also shows pictures of evangelical outreach activity: mixing with the community in businesses, shops, second hand book sales, and so on.

So all in all, a huge swathe of territory pictorially covered.

Faith in the City of London is atmospheric, joyous and optimistic. It is a celebration of a side to the Square Mile that many of us – including even people who work there every day of their lives – don’t always realise or see.


All images by Niki Gorrick. 


Faith in the City of London (160pp) by Niki Gorick is published by Unicorn Publishing with a cover price of £25.

 

 

 

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john wesley

John Wesley

Yesterday I visited Wesley’s Chapel in City Road and the Bunhill Fields Burial Grounds directly across the street. I had planned for several hours exploring the chapel – which also houses the Methodist Museum and the Foundery Chapel – and John Wesley’s house next door. But a meeting I was at beforehand overran by several hours, giving me 30 minutes for the task. Most unsatisfactory, I shall just have to go again soon, because there is much to enjoy.

John Wesley (1703 – 1791), founded Methodism in 1739, inspired largely by Moravian doctrine (which he couldn’t fully embrace because of certain creeds he considered heretical). He became a hugely popular itinerant preacher, proselytising – typically outdoors – to thousands of would-be converts and followers around Britain and Ireland. Methodism was an almost instant success, both at home and internationally.

With a grant of land from the City of London, Wesley built Wesley’s Chapel in 1778, next door the earlier – and by comparison, tiny – Foundery Chapel (which still exists). The Grade I listed church is significant architecturally because it was designed by George Dance the Younger, City of London Surveyor, the vast majority of whose works have been demolished down the years. (coincidentally, see my previous post on Pitzhanger – I’m unintentionally having a bit of a George Dance week).

wesley's chapel

wesley's chapel

wesley's chapel

wesley's chapel

Memorial to prominent Methodists. There are many busts like these around the chapel.

the foundery chapel

The Foundery Chapel, named after a gun foundry near the site.

john wesley

Death mask of John Wesley in the Methodist Museum underneath the chapel.

john wesley's house

John Wesley’s House

We say goodbye to Wesley and cross the road to the Bunhill Fields Burial Grounds. This area has been a burial place for over a millennium, at one stage a plague pit used to deal with overflow corpses from the City. It became an unconsecrated cemetery for non-conformists from the 1660s. Bunhill Fields played that role until closed in 1852 during the programme of moving cemeteries to the suburbs as a measure to counteract epidemics. Since then it has been maintained by the City of London Corporation as a public garden. Its three most notable “residents” are Daniel Defoe, William Blake and John Bunyan. But also buried here are the noted hymnologist Isaac Watts and Richard Cromwell, eldest son and ill-fated Lord Protector on the death of his father, Oliver Cromwell. After the Restoration and a short period in exile, Cromwell Junior returned to England and lived to a ripe old age – a very lucky man given the fate of others from the Commonwealth regime.

bunhill fields

tomb of john bunyan

Tomb of John Bunyan

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