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."

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