The “Lion Sermon” and the church of St Katharine Cree

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Gayer plaque, St Katharine Cree

The “Lion Sermon” is given at the church of St Katharine Cree on the  Thursday nearest to this day each year, and  has been since 1643, in remembrance of the Merchant Adventurer (of the Levant Company) and later Lord Mayor of London Sir John Gayer being spared by a lion in Syria on October 16th of that year.  I attended the 371st “Lion Sermon” in the church of St Katharine Cree on  Leadenhall Street.    It was by Shami Chakrabarti, the Director of Liberty, and on the subject of, and I paraphrase,  “Freedom, and what it means in the metaphorical Lion’s Den of the modern world”.   Freedom, and the  Human Rights of Dignity, Equality and Fairness (“and the greatest of these is Equality”).  Admirable sentiments, especially resonant in a church that at the time of the Civil War in the 1640s stood for the supposed “divine” rights of the king over those of the commoner.

The church itself was originally built in the grounds of Holy Trinity Priory sometime before 1291 (being mentioned in the Taxatio Ecclesiastica of Pope Nicholas IV), and possibly around 1280, and rebuilt between  1500-4, in the Gothic style, and again between 1628-31, this time in the Renaissance style.  It was undamaged by the Great Fire of 1666, although later required to be restored  in 1878-9, and again, after being damaged by bombing in the Blitz of the Second World War, in  1956-62.   The interior contains some Gothic elements, such as the east window, in the form of an elaborately stylised Katharine Wheel, and the intricately ribbed ceiling; and some Renaissance ones, such as the Corinthian columns in the nave.  It also contains monuments to Sir Nicholas Throkmorton (d. 1570) as well as to  Sir  John Gayer (d. 1649).  The church was  consecrated in 1631 by Archbishop Laud, who went on to be executed in 1645 for his close association with the then-king, Charles I, and for his persecution of Puritans. The Father Smith organ, once played by Purcell and Handel, dates to 1686.

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