Monday, June 17, 2013

The Church of St. Martin within Ludgate

The Church of St. Martin within Ludgate was once the most western limit of the original city of London that was built by the Romans almost 2.000 years ago. Beneath the church are the foundations of the Roman city wall and the later medieval city wall. The west gateway to the city spanned the road outside. It was known as the Lud Gate, supposedly named after the mythical British king Lud, but more likely it derives from fludgate (floodgate) or the old English ludgeat (postgate). Through this gate passed rich and poor, famous and unknown, across the centuries.

Legend says that the first church here was built by the British king Cadwallo in the 7th century, around the time of the first St. Paul’s cathedral. A church dating at least from Norman times was rebuilt in 1437. St. Marti’s is named after a Roman soldier who converted to Christianity in northern France.
The Native American princess Pocahontas is believed to have visited this church when she lived on Ludgate Hill in 1616 and was befriended by the rector of St. Martin’s, Samuel Purchas. Admiral Sir William Penn, the naval reformer and father of the founder of Pennsylvania, was married here in 1643. His Admiralty colleague Samuel Pepys was also a visitor.
The medieval church was destroyed in the Great Fire of London. The local diarist John Evelyn saw hot lead from St. Paul’s roof “melting down the street in a stream”. It was then that today’s church was built.
The great architect Sir Christopher Wren designed this church, mostly completed in 1684. The splendid 168ft spire was created as a counterpoint to the great dome of his St. Paul’s Cathedral. It is said that Wren liked to stand on the spire’s balcony in order to oversee the work on St. Paul’s.

In its time, Ludgate Hill has been a centre of publishing and law, business and refreshment. Newxt door to the church in 1731 was opened the London Coffee House, where the likes of Benjamin Franklin later discussed issues of the day. The Lud Gate survived until 1760, when it was taken down from impeding traffic. Ludgate Hill has been the route of some of the great processions of British history: the procession to celebrate the defeat of the Spanish Armada, the celebration of the union of England and Scotland, the victories at Blenheim and Waterloo, the silver jubilee of Queen Victoria.
In WW II only a favourable wind gave St. Martin’s a narrow escape from the fires in the air raids of December 1940 in the London Blitz. This was the least damaged of all the City churches, and it is still one of the best preserved of Wren’s creations.

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