St Dunstan-in-the-East

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.

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St Dunstan-in-the-East (not individually identified on sixteenth-century “Agas” map/Map of Early Modern London) was originally built at least  as long ago as the thirteenth century, and possibly as long ago as the turn of the eleventh and twelfth, high-quality carved stonework of this age and likely from this site having recently been discovered in nearby Harp Lane (note also in this context that Dunstan was Bishop of London and later Archbishop of Canterbury in the late tenth century).  The church  was extended in the fourteenth century, and, by the fifteenth, included a school.  It was repaired in the early seventeenth century. 

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The church was partly burned down in the Great Fire of 1666, and subsequently rebuilt by Wren, in the Gothic style, between 1695-1705, and again (nave only) by David Laing, in the Georgian Perpendicular style, between 1810-21.   According to tradition, the tower, with its  spire supported by almost miraculous   flying buttresses, was built to the design of Wren’s daughter Jane.  Washington Irving’s words could have been written for it: “Stone seems, by the cunning labour of the chisel, to have been robbed of its weight, suspended as if by magic”.

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It was gutted in the Blitz, with essentially only the  tower surviving intact.

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The surrounding ruins were made into a peaceful and beautiful city garden in 1971.

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It is one of the twenty-one lost Wren churches.

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