Each year we take part in Open House London—which gives free access to London’s best buildings. This short film is shown to visitors before their tour.
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.
10 April at 9.20pm: an IRA bomb explodes outside the Baltic Exchange in St Mary Axe, about 55 metres 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.
20 April: 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.
The architect Quinlan Terry, plans to restore the floor to its original medieval level, which also makes it possible to put in underfloor 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.
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.
Friday 1 December 1995