I have kept neither precise records nor memories of the path that led me that afternoon from the Inn to St. Dunstan’s in the East. If I recall something of the church thresholds which I crossed and their exotic interiors and the chain coffee shop from which I observed All-Hallows-by-the-Tower through the general din of motor vehicles. Perhaps these sights came either sooner or later than I remember, and I find myself in a position to build not from beginning to end but from the center outwards to either extremity.
That afternoon, I would undoubtedly locate the center in the ruins of St. Dunstan-in-the-East, a church garden to rival that of Greyfriars. Online resources made clear that the structure itself had known many successive alterations following the first laying of the groundwork at the close of the 11th century. An aisle had joined the nave, and the church had known two distinct periods of repairs in the 17th century. Unlike fellow victims of the fire, St. Dunstan-in-the-East had received only a few years’ patching up rather than rebuilding from the ground up but later took some consolation in a turn-of-the-century Wren steeple with needle spire and flying buttress supports.
Beneath the weight of either the nave roof or its own importance, the church walls began to give in the early 18th century and received the rebuild that Wren had not seen fit to carry out following the fire. Walls again perpendicular, enemy action finished what years of poor planning had not and brought the structure down about itself. Through the 1950’s and early 1960’s, the sight of tower, steeple and two surviving walls reminded passersby that a church had once stood there until funds and work proved sufficiently advanced to allow the public back into a church become garden or, more precisely, both at once.
The outward effect was suitably impressive, as the number of visitors even on that dreary afternoon attested. As I walked the length of the pollution-blackened north wall and its cover of creepers, I unwittingly thwarted what appeared an impromptu photoshoot. As I made my way through a back portal into the open nave and crouched beneath a palm tree, fronds far from native horizons, I pondered for a moment what compulsion gripped people to engage in an activity largely, if not completely, devoid of meaning in the grand scheme of things. Indeed, I could not quite put my finger on what led visitors to make of a church-ruin-garden the site of their own more contemporary vanities, unless I supposed that the outer bombed-out shell reflected their inner washed-out wreck. If so, their time therein and interminable clicking might represent the only means by which to bring into existence a meaningful correspondence between two ruins of equal scope.
Rounding the southern wall, likewise thick with creeping vines, I laid eyes upon a feeble thing of vegetal origin which proved none other than a fig tree planted for the 1937 commemoration of George VI’s crowning. If this fig surpassed its counterpart at the Inn in virtue of surviving the years, it had not fared better in the long run: double trunk cut off at knee-level and willful horizontal shoots similarly marked for death. I remarked for no one in particular that St. Dunstan’s fig might well have done better to join its brethren in the nether’s friendlier climes.