St Stephen Walbrook
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.
|St Stephen Walbrook|
St Stephen Walbrook at dusk
|Denomination||Church of England|
|Previous denomination||Roman Catholic|
|Heritage designation||Grade I listed building|
|Architect(s)||Sir Christopher Wren|
The original church of St Stephen stood on the west side of the street today known as Walbrook and on the east bank of the Walbrook, once an important fresh water stream for the Romans running south-westerly across the City of London from the City Wall near Moorfields to the Thames. The original church is thought to have been built directly over the remains of a Roman Mithraic Temple following a common Christian practice of hallowing former heathen sites of worship.
The church was moved to its present higher site on the other side of Walbrook Street, still on the east side of the River Walbrook (later diverted and concealed in a brick culvert running under Walbrook Street and Dowgate Hill on a straightened route to the Thames), in the 15th century. In 1429 Robert Chichely, acting as executor of will of the former Lord Mayor, Sir William Stondon, had bought a piece of land close to the Stocks Market (on the site of the later Mansion House) and presented it to the parish. Several foundation stones were laid at a ceremony on 11 May 1429, and the church was consecrated ten years later, on 30 April 1439. At 125 feet (38 m) long and 67 feet (20 m) wide, it was considerably larger than the present building.
The church was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. 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.
The present building was constructed between 1672 and 1679 to a design by Sir Christopher Wren, at a cost of £7,692. It is rectangular in plan, 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. Wren also 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. The walls, tower, and internal columns are made of stone, but the dome is of timber and plaster with an external covering of copper
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 of the Corinthian order. 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. 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.
The contemporary carved furnishings of the church, including the altarpiece and Royal Arms, the pulpit and font cover, are attributed to the carpenters Thomas Creecher and Stephen Colledge, and the carvers William Newman and Jonathan Maine.
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 Devout Men Taking Away the Body of St Stephen, a painting by Benjamin West, which the rector, Thomas Wilson, had commissioned for the church. The next year Wilson set up in the church a statue of Catharine Macaulay, (then still alive) whose political ideas he admired. It was removed after protests. The east window was unblocked, and the picture moved to the north wall, during extensive restorations in 1850.
The church 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.
The church was designated a Grade I listed building on 4 January 1950.
In 1953 the Samaritans charity was founded by the rector of St Stephen's, Dr Chad Varah. The first Samaritans branch (known as Central London Branch) operated from a crypt beneath the church before moving to Marshall Street in Soho. In tribute to this, a telephone is preserved in a glass box in the church. The Samaritans began with this telephone, and today the voluntary organisation staffs a 24-hour telephone hot-line for people in emotional need.
In 1987, as part of a major programme of repairs and reordering, a massive white polished stone altar commissioned from the sculptor Henry Moore by churchwarden Peter Palumbo was installed in the centre of the church. Its unusual positioning required the authorisation of a rare judgement of the Court of Ecclesiastical Causes Reserved. In 1993 a circle of brightly coloured kneelers designed by Patrick Heron was added around the altar.
Benjamin West's Devout men taking away the body of St Stephen, previously hung on the north interior wall, was put into storage following the reordering. This decision was controversial, as the initial removal of the painting was illegal. In 2013 the church was given permission to sell the painting to a foundation, despite opposition from the London Diocesan Advisory Committee for the Care of Churches, and by the Church of England's Church Buildings Council. Prior to the painting's export, a temporary export bar was placed on it to give it a last chance to stay in the UK. The foundation has since loaned it to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, which has undertaken restoration work on the painting.
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- White, J.G. (1904). History of the Ward of Walbrook in the City of London. London: Privately printed.
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