About the Buildings
Architectural history of St Helen's
The Dean and Chapter of St Paul's give permission for a certain William to establish a nunnery in the grounds of the Priory church of St Helen of the Benedictine Order. The nunnery is built to the north of the existing church, and a new church built for the nuns to use, immediately alongside the older church. The new church is four feet wider than the parish church, and longer too. So the parish church is lengthened to match. This explains the unusual shape of the present St Helen's church building. A line of arches and a screen separates the Nuns' Choir and the Parish Church.
The four great arches, which dominate the building today, date from this time. The roof design also dates from this era, although the actual timber is more recent.
The nunnery is surrendered to King Henry VIII, along with all the religious houses in England.
The Leathersellers' Company acquires the convent buildings and land to the north of the church. The Nuns' Choir becomes part of the parish church, and once the screen is removed from between the Nuns' Choir and the main body of the church, the building is as we see it today.
Thomas Griffin builds the organ.
The last convent buildings are demolished.
Excavations uncover the extensive foundations, and, beneath them, traces of an earlier apse.
9:20pm April 10th – an IRA bomb explodes outside the Baltic Exchange in St Mary Axe, about 60 yards from the East end of St Helen's Church, killing three people. All the glass windows of St Helen's are shattered, the roof lifted and the East end window of the Nuns' Choir is completely blown in. The organ is badly damaged, together with the tomb of Sir Julius Caesar Adelmare.
April 20th – a second bomb explodes in Bishopsgate, causing further destruction in the building.
The enormous damage presents a considerable challenge to the Rector and churchwardens, but the destruction also gives an opportunity to re-order the beautiful ancient building.
Quinlan Terry, the architect, plans to restore the floor to its original medieval level, which also makes it possible to put in under-floor heating.
Modern lighting and public address systems are also installed. A new gallery runs the full width of the West end and the organ is back in its original position.
In the Bible, Joseph says to the brothers who sold him into slavery,
You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good, to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. (Genesis chapter 50 verse 20)
The bomb damage is repaired and the church building becomes a more flexible, open space, lighter than ever before, and yet retaining all its ancient grandeur.
We rejoice to use this glorious place to bear witness to Jesus Christ in the City of London.
Photographs of St Helen Bishopsgate
Photos of St Andrew Undershaft
Photos of St Peter-upon-Cornhill
Each September the church opens its doors, along with many other buildings of historical or architectural interest, to members of the public following the Open House London programme. We'd love you to join us on one of many tours that we'll be giving around the building during the event. The dates of the next Open House London event are 16–17 September 2017.
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