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 James Garlickhythe (“1” on sixteenth-century “Agas” map/Map of Early Modern London) was originally built in around 1100, and subsequently rebuilt in 1326, by the Vintners Richard de Rothing and his son John. According to Stow, among those buried here was one Richard Lions “a famous merchant of wines, and a lapidary, sometime one of the Sheriffs, beheaded in Cheap by Wat Tyler and other rebels in the year 1381 [i.e., during the “Peasants’ Revolt”]”. Lions was depicted on his gravestone “with his hair rounded by his ears, and curled; a little beard forked; a gown, girt to him down to his feet, of branched damask, wrought with the likeness of flowers; a large purse on his right side, hanging on a belt from his left shoulder; a plain hood about his neck, covering his shoulders, and hanging back behind him”.
The church burned down in the Great Fire of 1666, and was rebuilt by Wren between 1676-82 and 1714-17. It was then damaged by bombing in the First World War, and narrowly escaped total destruction in the Second, when a 500-lb bomb landed in the south-east corner but failed to explode, after which it was rebuilt between 1954-63. It was also damaged by, and repaired after, a freak accident involving a falling crane in 1991.
The church is popularly known as “Wren’s lantern” on account of the illumination from the clerestory windows, which are of clear rather than stained glass.
Some of the interior fittings were salvaged from St Michael Queenhithe, including the fine carved pulpit (with wig-peg), the choir stalls, and a wrought-iron sword-rest. The church registers date back to 1535, and are the oldest in England.
The recurring stylised scallop motif, for example above the doorway, on the clock above the doorway, and on the parish boundary markers, is in allusion to the sea-shells carried by pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, where St James’s bones were miraculously discovered some 800 years after his death (the church being the customary point of departure for pilgrims leaving from London).