St. Mary-le-Bow review
A lot of London's churches were like a layer cake. They'd have an original crypt from 900 years ago, then a burnt out sponge in the middle (courtesy of the Great Fire of London), topped off with some decorative icing by Christopher Wren. Then the greedy Luftwaffe came along and devoured them in a single night. St. Mary-le-Bow is exactly like that. Wren's outer walls and tower sit on top of an 11th-century crypt, and the rest was rebuilt after the Blitz.
It's most famous object is the Great Bell of Bow. If you want to call yourself a proper Cockney then you need to have been born within the sound of this bell. Legend has it that Dick Whittington was turned back to London after hearing it ring on Highgate Hill: "Turn again Whittington, thrice-times Lord Mayor of London" -- but that is total nonsense, of course, because Highgate Hill is miles away. You'd need superhuman hearing to hear it from there. The Norwegians heard it all right, though, because the BBC used to broadcast its bong across occupied Europe. The Germans promptly dropped a lucky shot on the roof, totally trashing the inside, and when the war was won the Norwegians gifted the rebuilt church a dragon for its chapel. (They've also been giving us a Christmas tree every year for Trafalgar Square -- they're quite generous, those Norwegians!)
The interior is nice enough, but it's all too new for me, so I never give it more than five minutes. It's basically just a blue-roofed box with gold-leaf decorations. They've filled the windows with some decent stained glass, but the pictures are all rather dark and difficult to follow. You need to invest a bit of time in them to work out what they're showing. (That will give you something to do, the next time you've got a spare ten minutes down Cheapside.)
The 11th-century Norman crypt underneath is in two separate sections. The first section is just a skinny little corridor that has been turned into a cafe. All you can see down there are pine tables and chairs and a couple of ponytail-aprons polishing the coffee machine. I normally quite like coffee places, but I never bother stopping at this one.
The second section can be reached from a doorway in the courtyard (you actually have to go outside the church and walk to the corner, where you'll find a set of stairs behind some railings). At the bottom of the stairs is a small stone chapel with a vaulted roof and tombstone carpet on the floor. It's nice enough, I suppose, but it's not worth a detour.
In conclusion, then... it's the kind of church you might pop inside on your lunch break, just to be nosey, or when you've got nothing better to do, like me. But it's not somewhere you'll want to include on your holiday itinerary.
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