St. Magnus the Martyr review
Do you know which is my favourite building in London? Go on, have a guess...
No, you're wrong, it's not St. Magnus (trick question!) -- guess again.
Nope, wrong again. Guess again.
Nope! Have one more guess and then I will tell you.
Wrong again -- you are totally useless at guessing.
It is actually London Bridge. But I don't mean the modern-day monstrosity that leads up to The Shard, I mean the fantastic medieval one that used to have a load of houses and churches on top.
If you've never seen a picture of it then try and imagine picking up an entire street and dropping it across the river, complete with overhanging houses and horses and carts and shops and markets and muddy pavements packed with traders and beggars and soldiers and scum. And then imagine a big gatehouse drawbridge in the middle and a tower at the Southwark end sporting bloody spikes with severed heads, and the raging roaring water storming underneath. That, my friend, is what I'm talking about when I say London Bridge.
So why am I telling you all of this, in a review about St. Magnus the Martyr church? Well that's because this church marks the spot where the bridge came to an end on the City side. When you enter the church through the porch you are walking on the patch of ground where the roadway used to be. (Unfortunately it's not the original church because that got levelled in the Great Fire of London -- it's only a stone's throw from Pudding Lane.) They've even got some big blocks of masonry out the front which were salvaged from the original bridge (plus some Roman timbers from the wharf).
But that's not the reason why I like this church so much... step inside...
Just inside the door is a big glass box with a ten-foot model of the original bridge. Have a good look at that, and then you will understand why I like the bridge so much. It's a really lively scene with thousands of little people bustling up and down the cramped-up streets with the houses hanging precariously over the edge -- they are all propped up with struts and it's a wonder that they never collapsed into the Thames. It must have been incredibly dark and gloomy with all the two-story houses blocking out the sun. There are horses and carts and soldiers and traders and kids and dogs and chicken and sheep all shoulder to shoulder like it's rush hour at Waterloo. Check out the great big gatehouse and drawbridge halfway along, and that unbelievably grand church built in the middle of the roaring river.
It's almost like something out of a fairytale. How fantastic would it be if that structure still stood?
But it doesn't. Ah well. St. Magnus the Martyr is quite nice though (I suppose I should say a few words about the church while I'm here). My entire focus has been on the model so far, but now that I've stopped to look around I have realised that the church is actually quite beautiful. It's got that lovely smoky incense smell and a quiet rumbling sound that is on the very edge of hearing -- the kind of feint noise that you only get in big buildings (do you know what I mean? probably not).
The decor is all dark wood and stained glass. There are plenty of plaques on the wall and dead men's gravestones on the floor; but their names are getting rubbed out by the footsteps. The pattern is wearing off their blankets, and soon they'll be sleeping under plain stone sheets. I wonder how many people are buried under the floor? There are probably more people under the floor than in the pews -- it's literally just me and a fidgety old bird in a tatty coat. She's doing that furious nodding thing that crazy people do. It sounds like she's having a conversation with someone but there's no one here. Is she talking to me? Maybe she's talking to God. Maybe she thinks I am God. (I think I'm God as well -- so maybe we're both crazy.) I'm guessing that she's homeless by the way she's dressed. She's probably thinking the same thing about me.
Every now and then we hear a loud bang and a crash coming from the organ on the balcony above our heads. I think there's a workman up there doing some DIY. Either that or God has got tourettes.
It's just one big room really -- there are no side chapels. They've got some smaller altars in the corners with purple curtains and candlesticks. And they've got a model of a big ship for some reason, all rigged up like it's ready to fight at the Battle of Trafalgar. No explanation as to why it's there -- just another model on display for us sinners to look at. One of the big oil paintings has got a purple curtain draped across the top to hide the guy's face -- I wonder what he did wrong? Maybe he's so ugly that he's putting people off their prayers.
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