Sancti Botolfi Extra Bishopesgate*

*the first reference in 1212 made to the original Saxon church

Image: detail of Westminster Abbey

From the website of the Parish and Ward Church of St. Botolph without Bishopsgate, London EC2:

“Sir William Allen, Lord Mayor (1571-2) who was born and buried in the parish marked his mayoralty by repairing the Church at his own expense. Although the church survived the Great Fire of London (1666) St. Botolph’s had by the early eighteenth century fallen into disrepair and the decision was made to build a new church. The old church was demolished in 1725, and the present church, the fourth on this site, was completed in 1729 to the designs of James Gould, under the supervision of George Dance. It is aisled and galleried in the classic style, and is unique among the City churches in having its tower at the East End, with the chancel underneath. The font, pulpit and organ all date from the eighteenth century.

The parish registers are complete from 1558, and record the burials of many notable persons, including an infant son of the playwright Ben Jonson. Sir Paul Pindar (d 1650), James I’s Ambassador to Turkey, was probably the most celebrated parishioner. His epitaph reads that he was “faithful in negotiation, foreign and domestick, eminent for piety, charity, loyalty and prudence”. (The magnificent Jacobean facade of Pindar’s Bishopsgate mansion is preserved in the Victoria and Albert Museum.). The great actor Edward Alleyn, Shakespeare’s contemporary, and the founder of Dulwich College, was baptised here in 1566 and the poet John Keats in the present font in 1795.

Several rectors of St. Botolph’s went on to become Bishops of London. William Rogers, rector 1863-96, was a great social reformer, devoting time and money to the education and welfare of his poor parishioners, founding the Bishopsgate Institute, which carries on his ideals to this day. He also took a leading part in the reconstruction of Dulwich College.”

“St. Botolph was one of the earliest and most revered of East Anglian saints, and became known as the patron saint of wayfarers.

Botolph and his brother Adolph were young Saxon nobles living in the 7th century, and were sent for their education to a Benedictine Abbey in France. Adolph rose to be a Dutch Bishop, whilst Botolph came back to his native East Anglia. He was given, by King Anna, a grant of land on which to build a monastery. This land was at Icanhoh, a site that has been said to be the present Boston (Botolph’s Town) in Lincolnshire but is more likely to have been Iken, near Aldeburgh in Suffolk. Certainly Icanhoh was in a marshland area, for Botolph was said to have expelled the swamps of their “Devils” – in fact, he probably had the marshes drained and eliminated the “marsh gas” with its night glow.

St. Botolph died after a long life of Christian endeavour and teaching in 680. The monastery lived on for two centuries more but in 870AD was destroyed by Danish invaders. King Edgar (963-967AD) ordered that the remains of the saint be taken from the monastery ruins, and be divided into three parts: the head to be taken to Ely, the middle to be taken to Thorney, and the remainder to be taken to Westminster Abbey.

The relics were brought to London through various towns and eventually through the four City gates of Aldersgate, Bishopsgate, Aldgate and Billingsgate. The churches at the entrances to these gates were named after him. The first three remain, but the one at Billingsgate was destroyed in the Great Fire (1666) and never rebuilt. It seems that as his relics were conveyed from place to place, his name became associated with wayfarers and travellers.

Over 70 Churches, along with five towns and villages, are dedicated to him, and although St. Botolph has no place in the Prayer Book Calendar, his feast day is June 17.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s