Bartholomew-the-Great, the only surviving part of a Norman
priory, is London's oldest parish church.
The priory was established in
1123 by a monk named Rahere, who is buried in the church.
Rahere was a court jester to Henry I, and on a pilgrimage
to Rome Rahere almost died of malaria and was so grateful
for his recovery that he vowed to build a hospital on his
return to England.
In a dream he was saved from
a winged monster by St Bartholomew and when he arrived back
in England Rahere founded not only a hospital but also a priory
and church dedicated to St Bartholomew.
St Bartholomew's Hospital ('Barts'),
which has also survived, is London's oldest and best-loved
well-hidden church is one of London's few examples of Norman
architecture. The 13th century archway in Little Britain
was once the door of the church. In the 1530s, during
Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries, the nave was
demolished to provide space for a burial ground.
Today, the gateway leads into
the peaceful graveyard. Although only about a third
of the original building still stands the church is atmospheric.
The crossing and chancel remain
from the earlier building, with huge Romanesque pillars and
fine Norman detailing. In the 19th and 20th centuries
restoration was carried under Sir Aston Webb.
Rahere, who died in 1145, lies
in an early-15th century tomb in the traditional place of
honour on the north side of the sanctuary.
The church is noted for its Tudor
and Stuart monuments, and the font, dating from 1405 is the
only medieval font to be found in the City.
Over the centuries parts of St
Bartholomew-the-Great have also been used for secular purposes.
The church has housed a blacksmith's forge and a hop store,
and in 1725 Benjamin Franklin, the US statesman, served a
year as a journeyman printer in the Lady Chapel.