St. Michael Paternoster Royal review
This tiny little church was Dick Whittington's local. He used to live next door. (We're talking about the 1390s, around the time of Richard II, so it looked totally different back then -- it was rebuilt by Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London.)
I always feel a bit sorry for Dick because he did about as much good as it's possible for one man to do: he opened an almshouse for the poor, a new school for the kids, refurbished the dilapidated old gaol for the ne'er-do-wells -- and what do we remember him for? As a Christmas panto character. In real life this guy was Mother Theresa! But we stick him in a pair of tights, throw some custard pies in his face, and send everyone home from the theatre believing he's fictitious.
They don't even get his backstory right... because in the panto he's portrayed as a poor boy (he was a very rich man), gets fired for theft (he was a very generous philanthropist), has a chat with a cat (he hated cats), and becomes friends with a fairy (there's no such thing as fairies).
The real Dick Whittington became a very rich merchant by sending his 'Cats' to Africa ('Cats' was a type of boat in those days); so that's presumably where his sidekick cat came from: the type of ship he sent to the southern seas. Then he married the daughter of an Alderman, ran for Mayor a few times, and ended up as a Member of Parliament. So all of that panto pap about a bedraggled boy bounding down Highgate Hill believing the streets are paved with gold is total baloney. The only streets paved with gold around here are in this very church, because they've depicted them in a stained glass window. But you'll notice that they've portrayed him as a modern man about town, like a country gent, and included his cartoon cat (he didn't have a cat!). So their stained glass window is basically based on the panto character. Other churches show Biblical scenes and angels and saints in their religious windows, but St. Michael's has based theirs on the plot of a Christmas kids' show. How mad is that!
In the window above the altar they've included another unlikely guest: Satan. It's not often that the devil gets a death scene by an altar, but here he is, being speared through the throat by St. Michael. The windows either side show him battling against a many-headed serpent. It's quite a bloodthirsty spectacle for a peace-loving building.
Apart from the windows there's not a lot else to see. It's not the prettiest church in the world. The guts of Christopher Wren's rebuild were obliterated when the Nazis dropped a V1 Doodlebug on top (and those things we're impossible to aim, so it was an incredibly unlucky hit). Only the tower and walls survive from his time, and the rest is just 1960s plaster and panelling. It looks like a court room.
Dick Whittington's grave is supposed to be under the floor somewhere, but nobody knows where. They buried him. Lost him. Forgot him. And then resurrected him as a panto star.
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