Tag Archives: St Magnus the Martyr

St Magnus the Martyr

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On this day in either 1117 or 1118 (sources differ), Magnus Erlendssen, the piously Christian Earl of Orkney, was murdered on the island of Egilsay.

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The City of London church dedicated to him was probably originally built in the twelfth century, sometime after his sanctification in  1135.  It was subsequently rebuilt by Christopher Wren between 1671-87, after having been burned down in the Great Fire of London in 1666, and despite eighteenth- to twentieth- century modifications and restorations  retains much of the  “inexplicable splendour of Ionian white and gold” alluded to by T.S. Eliot in his 1922 poem “The Waste Land”.

Miles Coverdale (1487-1569), who, with William Tyndale, published the first authorised version of the Bible in English in 1539, and who was church rector here between 1564-66, is buried here.  Henry Yevele (c. 1320-1400), who was the master mason to three successive kings, Edward III, Richard II and Henry IV, between c. 1360-1400, during which time he either built or rebuilt much of Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster,  is also buried here.

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Among the many treasures inside the church are: a modern statue and stained-glass window depicting St Magnus in a horned Viking helmet …

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… further modern stained-glass windows depicting the churches of St Margaret New Fish Street and St Michael Crooked Lane, burned down in the Great Fire of 1666, and the chapel of St Thomas a Becket on Old London Bridge, demolished in 1831 …

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… and a modern scale-model of the bridge as it would have looked in its Medieval heyday.

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On the outside wall is a Corporation Blue Plaque marking the approach to the Old London Bridge, built between 1179-1206.

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Nearby are some stones from the bridge, and a timber from the Roman wharf purporting to date to 78, but in fact recently shown on tree-ring evidence to date to 62, i.e., the year after the destruction of Roman Londinium during the Boudiccan Revolt.

 

Blessing of the River Thames

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Next Sunday is the day of the annual ceremony of the “Blessing of the River Thames”.  Representatives from the church of St Magnus the Martyr and from Southwark Cathedral will process from their respective starting points on the north and south banks of the Thames to meet at a point midway across the river on London Bridge.  There, at 12:30, they will jointly conduct a short religious service blessing the river, during which a wooden cross will be cast into it.

St Thomas (a) Becket

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Services will be held in two City of London locations tomorrow around touring relics associated with  St Thomas (a) Becket, on temporary loan from the Basilica of Esztergom in Hungary.

The first service will be a private one  held in the chapel dedicated to St Thomas in the Mercers’ Hall off Cheapside, near where he was born.

The second will be a public one, commencing at 3:00 pm, in the church of St Magnus the Martyr on Thames Street, which for many years maintained supervision of the chapel of St Thomas on “old” London Bridge (the chapel was dissolved during the reign of Edward VI in the mid-sixteenth century,  and eventually demolished until the mid-eighteenth).  From London, the relics  will be taken to Canterbury.

Becket was born in Cheapside in London in c. 1119, the son of Gilbert, a merchant of Norman ancestry, and Matilda.  He was educated at Merton Priory, and later at one of the  grammar schools    in London, possibly St Paul’s, before entering the church, and rising to become Archdeacon of Canterbury in 1154, and eventually Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162.

Martyrdom of Becket

In 1170, he fell into a dispute with the King, Henry II, over the rights and privileges of the church, and  on December 29th that year was  murdered by four of the king’s men while conducting vespers in Canterbury Cathedral.    After his death he came to be venerated as a martyr, and was made a saint by Pope Alexander III in 1173.  His  tomb-cum-shrine in Canterbury Cathedral soon became an important pilgrimage site, and remained so  until it was destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII in 1538.   From 1209, pilgrims from London were able to travel to Canterbury by way of the newly-opened  “old” London Bridge, work on which began  in 1176.