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"St Margaret?s Church" Top 5 Page for this destination St. Margaret's Church, Westminster Tip by toonsarah

  John Piper window, St Margaret's Church
by toonsarah

Overshadowed by the bulk of Westminster Abbey, St Margaret’s is consequently also too often overlooked. I am as guilty as anyone – I have lived in London all my life but only went inside St Margaret’s for the first time this past summer. And in doing so I found a little gem.

This is the parish church of the City of Westminster, and sometimes also referred to as the parish church of the House of Commons. The reason for its proximity to the great Abbey Church is that in the 11th century the abbey’s monks felt that they were being disturbed at prayer by the local people who also came to attend mass in the Abbey. So they built a separate smaller church nearby to be used by these local people, so that they could be left to worship in peace.

The church has been rebuilt since that day and the building that now stands here dates from 1523, although it has been restored several times. Its stained glass windows are particularly striking, and some have an interesting history too. Among the highlights to note are:
~ The west window above the entrance, which commemorates Sir Walter Raleigh whose voyages of exploration in the reign of Elizabeth I led to the establishment of Virginia, one of the earliest settlements in America. Raleigh was executed for treason only a few yards away from the east wall of the church in Old Palace Yard and was buried in the chancel. This 19th century window was funded by subscriptions from the United States of America.
~ Stained glass windows in the south aisle, designed by John Piper (see my photo). These replaced the original windows which were destroyed during the Second World War. The colours are subtle and muted – Piper deliberately chose not to use any strong colours or formal figures so as not to compete with the east window.
~ A window at the west end of the north aisle which commemorates the poet John Milton and shows scenes from his famous work, Paradise Lost.
~ The east window is thought to have been originally intended for another church, and although made (in the Netherlands) in the early 16th century, was only acquired by St Margaret’s in 1758. It was considered controversial for several reasons. Firstly, the two figures kneeling on either side of the cross in the bottom corners of the window are King Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and the king’s later treatment of his wife (divorcing her against the laws of the church to marry Anne Boleyn) makes this an odd thing to see in a church, albeit one of a faith that now allows for divorce. Secondly, at the time of its purchase the detailed portrayal of Jesus’ crucifixion was thought to be too “high church” and unsuitable, and the Dean of the Abbey had to be persuaded to allow it to be installed.

Address: St Margaret St, Westminster, London SW1P 3JX
Directions: The church lies between Westminster Abbey and Parliament Square. Nearest Underground stations are St James's Park (District & Circle lines) and Westminster (Jubilee, District & Circle lines).
Phone: +44 20 7654 4840

Review Helpfulness: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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  • Written Dec 18, 2009
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