Last night (Monday 17th November) we went to see the Little Spaniel Theatre’s staging of “The Somonyng Everyman” at the church of St Bartholomew the Great in West Smithfield (having previously greatly enjoyed their previous production of “Murder in the Cathedral” at the same venue). It was a most welcome opportunity to visit this beautiful building once again – our first time after dark. The production certainly made excellent use of the Medieval atmospheric.
The Augustinian Priory of St Bartholomew was founded by Rahere, a courtier of Henry I, in 1123, and much added to and modified in the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, before being dissolved by Henry VIII in 1539, when the part of the priory church that was spared demolition became a parish church (to which a red-brick tower was added in 1622-8). It then temporarily served as a Dominican Convent under Mary. It was undamaged in the Great Fire of 1666, although nonetheless requiring to be restored by Aston Webb in 1886-98, and also undamaged by bombing in the Blitz of 1940-1, such that, uniquely, much of the Medieval fabric of the church still survives, and its interior in particular is correspondingly darkly atmospheric and evocative. The stone-built choir is original, twelfth-century; the west door, thirteenth-century, although incorporated into a later, sixteenth-century, gate-house, dating to 1559; the vaulted aisles, fourteenth-century; the rare, octagonal font and memorial to Rahere, fifteenth-century; and the oriel window, inscribed with Prior Bolton’s rebus of a crossbow-bolt and a barrel or tun, early sixteenth-century, dating to 1509. The dedication of the church – and of the nearby hospital – to St Bartholomew was on account of Rahere’s recovery from malaria following a vision he had of the Saint.