Thursday, November 20, 2014

Saint Giles Cripplegate

Less than a mile from John Wesley's house and chapel is Saint Giles Cripplegate. This church is one of the few medieval churches which still stand in London. There has been a church on this site for a thousand years. A very simple chapel stood on the site during Saxon times. A larger church building was constructed around 1090 AD. Just over three hundred years later, the essence of the church which stands there today was built.

Since that time, there were three major fires in the church which required extensive re-construction. One in 1545, a second in 1897 and the third in 1940. In researching our trip to London, I saw some photographs of what the church looked like around World War 2. The roof was gone and the church appeared to be shambles. Once again, my wife and I were given a lesson on the impact which historical events can have on a city. The church, as well as the surrounding neighborhood, was devastated by German bombing at the start of the war. A building which is only a few hundred feet from Saint Giles bears a commemorative cornerstone which states that the first bomb dropped on the City of London fell on that site in August of 1940.

Saint Giles was vastly renovated after the war. If you look up at the roof, you see what looks like ancient stones walls which are covered by relatively new looking ceiling beams.

The church, like the Wesley chapel, has numerous memorials in it. We learned that several people are buried in the church, such as John Foxe who wrote Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, as well as John Milton, who wrote the classic “Paradise Lost” and the lesser-known “Paradise Regained.”

Cripplegate was a large gate for the old London City Wall. St Giles was less than a city block away from it. The gate itself goes back to Roman times when the city of London was founded by the Romans in 43 AD. The location of this gate took on significance for a group of English non-conformists during the 1660s.

During this time though, the non-conformists met at 7 o’clock every morning at Cripplegate for what they called Morning Exercises. Think of this as an outdoor church service. I knew that the gate itself has been gone for a few centuries now. However, I was hoping to find a blue historical plaque marking the site. Construction and renovation work was in progress on the site so that even the historical marker wasn’t able to be seen. However, a large section of the old wall is still visible from just outside St. Giles and at the building by the Cripplegate site. Since there were restrictions on where the non-conformist ministers could operate legally, I am reminded of the passage in Hebrews 13:11-13 which tells us that Jesus suffered “outside the gate” and that we are to “go to Him outside the camp.” The non-conformist ministers, likewise, had to go “outside the camp” of the old walled City of London do to the work to which God called them. While large sections of the old wall still exist, it was again a surreal experience to know that we were standing by the same wall that many godly people stood by, morning by morning, to practice their faith as they believed they must, and to hear the Gospel “outside the gate.”

In the next entry, I will briefly discuss what is known today as "Big Ben."

Friday, November 7, 2014

John Wesley's Prayer Room

My wife Julie and I had the opportunity to visit London for six days last month. We saw a lot of sites which are tied to Christian history. I want to take the opportunity to revive the use of the School of the Solitary Place blog to recap some highlights of the trip. 

The site I will discuss in this entry is John Wesley’s Chapel and House. Both are open to the public. The Chapel was built in 1778 to replace Wesley’s original chapel known as the Foundery. Wesley’s house was built one year later. The Chapel is remarkable place to visit. There are numerous memorials to those who in some way contributed to this place of worship. There are also a number of other features which have been added or modified over the years, including a communion rail donated by Lady Margaret Thatcher who served as the UK’s Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990 and was married in the chapel in 1951.

My wife and I were impressed as our tour guide indicated that services at Wesley’s chapel were never meant as a replacement for the services of the Church of England. John Wesley was a faithful Anglican priest throughout his life. Services at the Chapel were intended to supplement what was happening at Anglican services.

One facet of history which I find so intriguing is that of having some form of contact with a person, place or event of history. At Wesley’s chapel, we had, right in front of us, the very pulpit from which John Wesley preached while in London during the last twelve years of his life. For myself, what I found even more intriguing was standing in Wesley’s house, just next door to the chapel.

Being able to take in history in this way provides a dimension which reading simply does not give. My wife and I were able to see the cabinet with Wesley’s theological library. We were told that Wesley was in the habit of writing in his books with comments on what he was reading. Not only does having these books give us an insight to Wesley but his comments allow us an added perspective into his thinking as well.

John Wesley was a strong advocate of physical fitness. He had a rather interesting, hand-driven device which would generate a small electrical current. It was thought at the time that small amounts of electricity were beneficial to the body. Thus, Wesley had his own electricity-generating device which still exists and is on display at the house. He also had a spring-driven chair from which you had to push up a little harder to get out of the chair. It’s not quite a home gym from the 21st century but still rather impressive for a late 18th century home.

Perhaps what was the most moving part of the tour at Wesley’s chapel and house was being able to step inside John Wesley’s prayer room. In this room, just off his bedroom, Wesley prayed every morning at 4am. This room has been called the “Powerhouse of Methodism” due to Wesley’s consistent, fervent and disciplined prayer life in that room. Actually being able to stand in this very room was a great reminder to both my wife and me of the importance and power of a life of consistent, fervent and disciplined prayer.

One of the great treasures we found while at the Wesley house was the gentleman who was our tour guide. He was very engaging and gave us a good lesson in the value of those who have living memories of an event. Any city or region is shaped by the times and circumstances which the people of that city or region experienced. For a city as old as London, that is particularly true. Our tour guide made reference to the bombings which London endured in the course of the Second World War. Our guide mentioned one night, when he was ten years old, while living in an area west of London, that on one particular night in 1940, he could look east and see a reddish glow off the horizon. He told us that the glow was not the first light of dawn but the light coming off the fires happening in London due to the incendiary bombing it faced. My wife and I are thankful that a gentleman who is 84 years old was able to relate to us what it was like to be in England at that time. What a wonderful living treasure.

Next time, I will examine our visit to Saint Giles Cripplegate.