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Travelogue G13

December 25, 2015

Despite my intentions, I did not next come upon a church ruin but one still standing. In St. Lawrence Jewry I discovered a lasting parish. Certainly, given its proximity to the other sites touched by fire and firebombs, this church had undergone changes of its own, both visible and otherwise. The 12th century building, which took its name from the medieval Jewish ghetto in the City’s east and Old Jewry, the street at the ghetto’s heart, was left a charred husk by the Great Fire.

The medieval structure’s successor was born of the pencils and instruments of Wren, who, this time, opted neither for Gothic nor brick, but for Baroque and stone. These touches proved most visible in the belfry which consisted in a white, square base topped by a low, geometrical handrail and with a pyramidal stone at each corner, in truth more spike than pyramid. From that square base emerged the spire, itself divided between a simpler stone tower, darkened by car exhaust, and the copper-plated point gone grey with age.

I circled about to the east front where I observed the arrangement of four Corinthian columns set in a Greek-style attic. If the whole proved rather impressive, the more attentive visitor undoubtedly took note of the classical deception at work in that facade, which had merely been added to the eastern end rather than being an extension of the roof itself. I was not such a visitor but had another to thank for the insight.

Once inside, I was immediately struck by the building’s asymmetry which I had failed to notice from outdoors. Although the ceiling was evenly divided into ornamented, sunken panels, the northern side of the nave revealed an aisle, bounded by columns, and lent a skewed impression to the interior. I paused for a moment, as if to collect myself, until such a time as the northern wall pulled in and balance returned to the church interior.

As the plaque outside noted, St. Lawrence Jewry had, for the second time in its history, become a charred husk at the hands of the “King’s enemies”. Somewhat bemused by this last expression, I could only ask myself, what if anything, made them the King’s enemies in particular, as if their conduct and ideology had not made clear just how antithetical they were to life in general, rather than just that of the kingly variety.

Regardless, a husk it was, and the church did not reemerge in quite the same form following the war. For the church and its Oxford sponsor no longer possessed the means to restore it, and so control was given over to the city. With the passage from parish church to guild church, St. Lawrence Jewry passed from more than just one civil status to another. Where once it had held itself at the City’s margins, it now stood at its heart as the City’s official church and the parish of the Lord Mayor.

In this way, St. Lawrence Jewry posed a puzzle for me. In a city where none remained at the center, being thrown from inner to outer, I had difficulty reckoning with this church’s passing from outer to inner. Either my reading of the city’s social space was erroneous or there was something more at work in the life of the new city church and the evolution of the parishes.

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