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St. Stephen Walbrook

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Title: St. Stephen Walbrook  
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St. Stephen Walbrook

St. Stephen Walbrook
St. Stephen Walbrook at dusk
Country United Kingdom
Denomination Church of England
Website Architect(s) Sir Christopher Wren
Style Baroque
Diocese Diocese of London

St Stephen, Walbrook is a church in the City of London, part of the Church of England's Diocese of London. The present domed building was erected to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren following the destruction of its medieval predecessor in the Great Fire of London in 1666. It is located in Walbrook, next to the Mansion House, and near to Bank and Monument Underground stations.

Early history

The original church of St Stephen stood on the west side of the Walbrook,.[1] a stream running southwards across the City of London from the City Wall near Moorfields to the Thames.[2][2]

The church was moved to its present site, on the east side of the Walbrook.[3] (later concealed in a culvert) [4] in the fifteenth century. In 1429 Robert Chichely, acting as executor of will of the former Lord Mayor, Sir William Stondon, bought a piece of land on the east side of the Walbrook, and presented it to the parish.[3] Several foundation stones were laid at a ceremony on 11 May 1429, and the church was consecrated ten years later, on 30 April 1439.[5] At 125 feet (38 m) long and, 67 feet (20 m) wide it was considerably larger than the present building.[6]

The church was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666.[3] It contained a memorial to the composer John Dunstaple. The wording of the epitaph had been recorded in the early 17th century, and was reinstated in the church in 1904, some 450 years after his death. The nearby church of St Benet Sherehog, also destroyed in the Great Fire was not rebuilt; instead its parish was united with that of St Stephen.[3]

Wren's church

The present building was constructed in 1672-9 to a design by Sir Christopher Wren, at a cost of £7,692.[6] It is rectangular in plan,[7] with a dome and an attached north west tower. Entry to the church is up a flight of sixteen steps, enclosed in a porch attached to the west front.[3] Wren designed a porch for the north side of the church. This was never built, but there once was a north door, which was bricked up in 1685, as it let in the offensive smells from the slaughterhouses in the neighbouring Stocks Market.[8] The walls, tower,[9] and internal columns [3] are made of stone, but the dome is of timber[9] and plaster with an external covering of copper[10]

The 63 feet (19 m) high dome is based on Wren's original design for St Paul's, and is centred over a square of twelve columns[11] of the Corinthian order.[3] The circular base of the dome is not carried, in the conventional way, by pendentives formed above the arches of the square, but on a circle formed by eight arches that spring from eight of the twelve columns, cutting across each corner in the manner of the Byzantine squinch.[11] This all contributes to create what many consider to be one of Wren's finest church interiors. Sir Nikolaus Pevsner lists it as one of the ten most important buildings in England.

In 1760 a new organ was provided by George England.

In 1776 the central window in the east wall was bricked up to allow for the installation of a picture by Benjamin West, which the rector, Thomas Wilson, had given to the parish.[12] The next year Wilson set up in the church a statue of Catherine Macaulay, (then still alive) whose political ideas he admired. It was removed after protests.[13] The east window was unblocked, and the picture moved to the north wall, during extensive restorations in 1850.[14]

Recent history

It suffered slight damage from bombing during the London Blitz of 1941 and was later restored. In 1954, the united parishes of St Mary Bothaw and St Swithin London Stone (merged in 1670) were themselves united with the parish of St Stephen. Nowadays, the church's features include:

  • Henry Moore's controversial massive white polished stone altar, commissioned by churchwarden Lord Palumbo and installed in 1987, which stands unusually in the centre of the church,[15] as allowed by a rare judgment of the Court of Ecclesiastical Causes Reserved.[16]
  • A telephone in a glass box, a tribute to the founding of the Samaritans at the church by the rector, Dr Chad Varah, in 1953. This voluntary organisation began with this telephone, and today staffs a 24-hour telephone hot-line for people in emotional need. The first Samaritans branch (known as Central London Branch) operated from a crypt beneath the church before moving to Marshall Street in Soho.

Benjamin West's painting, entitled Devout men taking away the body of St Stephen, formerly on the north interior wall has been in storage since the reordering which accompanied the introduction of the altar.

The church was designated a Grade I listed building on 4 January 1950.[10]

On 14 July 1994, the church was the venue for the wedding of Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones to Daniel Chatto.[17]




The nearest London Underground station is Bank.


See also

Anglicanism portal


External links

  • St Stephen Walbrook's parish website
  • Church of England's St Stephen Walbrook page
  • St Stephen Walbrook
  • History of the Samaritans

Coordinates: 51°30′45.46″N 0°5′23.71″W / 51.5126278°N 0.0899194°W / 51.5126278; -0.0899194

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