Another in the series on historic churches in the City of London …
By the time of the Great Fire of London in 1666, there were over a hundred parish churches and other places of Christian worship within and immediately without the walls of the City, despite a number having been closed down during the Reformation. To be precise, according to Parish Clerks’ records, there were 97 churches within the walls of the City, and 16 without, making a total of 113.
St Dionis Backchurch (“S. Denys” on sixteenth-century “Agas” map/Map of Early Modern London) was originally built at least as long ago as the thirteenth century, on part of the the site of Roman Basilica and Forum, and using robbed Roman building materials. Stow described it as “lately new built in the reign of Henry VI [in the fifteenth century]”. Pepys visited it in 1664, and noted the “very fine store of good women there is in this church, more than I know anywhere else about us”.
The church was burned down in the Great Fire of 1666, and subsequently rebuilt by Wren, in 1670-86, only to be demolished in 1878, when the parish was merged with All Hallows Lombard Street.
It is one of the twenty-one lost Wren churches, and one of the ten lost between 1860 (“Union of Benefices Act”) and 1900.
A Corporation “Blue Plaque” marks its former site.
The burials from the graveyard were relocated to the City of London Cemetery.
The salvaged communion table, font and pulpit from the church survive, in that of St Dionis in Parsons Green. A “squirt”, or fire extinguisher, from the vestry can be seen in the Museum of London.
Dionis or Dionysius the Areopagite, also known as Denys, is the patron saint of France, who was beheaded after attempting to convert Paris to Christianity in the third century. The church on, or rather just off, Fenchurch Street dedicated to him became commonly designated “backchurch”; that dedicated to St Gabriel, “forechurch”.