Crossing the Abbey: Five of London’s Must-See Churches

All  cultural tourism destinations have one thing in common: a diverse and fascinating architectural profile. London: lining its streets is a multitude of antique buildings, some going back to medieval times, contrasted by new additions, like the Shard or the Gherkin. Some of the best-known buildings in London are its churches and cathedrals, with their impressive design and dominant towers.

Here here is our short list of five must-see churches in London, helping one to appreciate the rich Christian heritage of this capital city.

Westminster Abbey

Certainly the most iconic of the churches, the Abbey is a staple of all London tours. Ever since the crowning of William the Conqueror in 1066, the church has been used for the coronation of all British and English monarchs. It is also the burial site of 17 kings and queens, as well as the final resting place for some of the most illustrious names in Britain: Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin, to name a few. The church has also seen its share of upscale funerals and weddings: the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, for example, or more recently, the wedding of Kate Middleton and Prince William.

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The Abbey is still an active place of worship. Therefore, you should check its activity schedule before planning your visit. Once you are there, take your time to check out the Abbey’s museum. Audio guides are also available to accompany you throughout your tour.

St. Paul’s Cathedral

The great British architect Sir Christopher Wren was responsible for the reconstruction of more than 50 churches in London after the Great Fire of 1666. St. Paul’s Cathedral was considered his greatest work. With its iconic dome, the cathedral defined London’s skyline for more than 300 years. The dome also includes a whispering gallery, where the acoustic design is such that whispers against the wall can be heard clearly 40 meters away.

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One of England’s most recognizable landmarks, the cathedral miraculously survived continual bombing during the Second World War, which left much of the city in fire and ruins. It stands as a symbol of the resilient spirit of Britain.

Westminster Cathedral

Whereas the Abbey stands for the Church of England, the Westminster Cathedral is the British headquarters of the Catholic Church. The cathedral is most famous for its high soaring bell tower, overseeing a piazza surrounded by a façade of red brick and stone, and offering one of the best panoramic views of the city. If you are only in town for a short time, it is possible to visit both the cathedral and the Abbey in one trip, with only a 10-minute walk.

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Temple Church

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The Temple Church was originally the London headquarters for the Knights Templar.  The famous order used it for the initiation of new members during the Middle Ages. The church was later confiscated by Henry VIII and became property of the Crown.  Also well known for its circular nave, the church remains one of the very few round churches still in used in England. Nine effigies of knights in full armour are located in the church’s main rotunda, which played a part in Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code.

In William Shakespeare’s play Henry VI, Part I, the playwright attributes the gardens of the Temple Church as the starting point of the Wars of the Roses. In a famous scene, noblemen met in the gardens of the church, each picking up a rose of white or red to show their  loyalty to the Houses of York or of Lancaster. 

London_St._Martin_in_the_Fields_Night_1St Martin-in-the-Fields Church

Thanks to its convenient location in Trafalgar Square, the church is part of  virtually all tours of the city of London.  Celebrated for its Greek revival architecture and an impressive dome, the church t also contains a classy café in its crypt, a frequent venue for jazz concerts.

The church also hosts the renowned Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, a world-class strings ensemble founded in 1959. Its superb acoustics make the church one of the most acclaimed concert venues in the country. Check the website’s schedule to see if a free lunchtime concert is available on your day of visit.

 

 

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