St Bartholomew the Great

The Priory Church of St Bartholomew the Great, sometimes abbreviated to Great St Bart’s, is an Anglican church in West Smithfield within the City of London. The building was originally founded as an Augustinian priory in 1123 and adjoins St Bartholomew’s Hospital of the same foundation.

The High Altar of the Priory Church

It was founded in 1123 by Rahere, a prebendary of St Paul’s Cathedral and an Augustinian canon regular, its establishment recorded as being in gratitude for his recovery from fever. His fabled miraculous return to good health contributed to the priory gaining a reputation for curative powers and with sick people filling its aisles, notably on 24 August (St Bartholomew’s Day).St Bartholomew the Great Priory Church’s coat of arms (after its founding patron, Henry I). The surviving building originally comprised part of a priory adjoining St Bartholomew’s Hospital, but while much of the hospital survived the Dissolution of the Monasteries about half of the priory’s church was ransacked before being demolished in 1543.  Its nave was pulled down up to the last bay but the crossing and choir survive largely intact from the Norman and later Middle Ages, enabling its continued use as a parish church. Part of the main entrance to the church remains at West Smithfield, nowadays most easily recognisable by its half-timbered Tudor frontage, which was erected by the post-Reformation patron of the advowson, Lord Rich, Lord Chancellor of England (1547-51).  From there to its west door, the church path leads along roughly where the south aisle of the nave formerly existed. Very little trace of its monastic buildings now survive, although parts of the cloister now house a café.  St Bartholomew the Great is so named to distinguish it from its neighbouring smaller church of St Bartholomew the Less which was founded at the same time within the precincts of St Bartholomew’s Hospital to serve as the hospital’s parish church and occasional place of worship. The two parish churches were reunited in 2012 under one benefice.

Having escaped the Great Fire of London of 1666 the church fell into disrepair, becoming occupied by squatters in the 18th century. W. G. Grace, however, was one famous congregant before its restoration in the late 19th century, when it was rebuilt under Sir Aston Webb’s direction. The Lady chapel at the east end had been previously used for commercial purposes and it was there that Benjamin Franklin worked for a year as a journeyman printer. The north transept was also formerly used as a blacksmith’s forge in order to make ends meet. The Priory Church was one of the few City churches to escape damage during the Second World War and, in 1941, was where the 11th Duke of Devonshire and the Hon Deborah Mitford were married.

The church was the location of the ‘fourth wedding’ in the film Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) and of scenes in other films: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Shakespeare in Love, the 1999 film version of Graham Greene’s 1951 novel The End of the Affair, Amazing Grace (2006), Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007), The Other Boleyn Girl (2008) and Sherlock Holmes (2009). It was used by T-Mobile as a stand-in for Westminster Abbey in its “royal wedding” advertisement (2011), snow white and the huntsman (2012).