St Leonard, Shoreditch had its origins at least as long ago as the twelfth century, sometime before 1150, although the present church, by George Dance the Elder, dates only to the eighteenth, to 1736-40. Essentially nothing remains of the Medieval church, although plans have recently been announced to undertake an archaeological survey in search of it, under Prof. Maurizio Seracini of the University of California, San Diego, an expert in non-invasive investigation of historical sites and artworks (best known for his research on a long-lost Leonardo da Vinci mural in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence).
An engraving of the church still survives, from 1735, i.e., just before it was demolished and rebuilt, which shows some apparently fifteenth-century features, possibly associated with the chantry chapel of Sir John Elrington, known to have been founded in 1482.
It is known as “The Actors’ Church”, on account of the number of theatricals buried here, many of whom performed at the nearby “The Theatre” and “The Curtain Theatre” in Shoreditch in the post-Medieval period. Among them are Henry VIII’s jester Will Sommers, who died in 1560; the actor Gabriel Spencer, who was killed in a duel with Ben Jonson in Hoxton in 1598; and three members of the Burbage family, the impresario, James, who built “The Theatre” in 1576, and died in 1597, and his sons Cuthbert, who built “The Globe Theatre” in Southwark in 1597, and died in 1636, and actor Richard, famous for his “Hamlet”, who died in 1619.
One might now also describe it as an acting church, characterfully inhabiting the role of St Saviour-in-the-Marshes in the irreverend (I’m sorry) sitcom “Rev”.
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