30 September 2016

Saint Margaret Lothbury, a Wren
church beside the Bank of England

Saint Margaret Lothbury, known as the Bankers’ Church, is one of the 51 Wren churches in the City of London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

After visiting two Wren churches in the City of London – Saint Lawrence Jewry next Guildhall and Saint Olave Jewry – I decided to visit one other Wren church on Wednesday evening [28 September 2016] as I walking back to Liverpool Street Station to catch the Stansted Express to Stansted Airport.

Saint Margaret Lothbury is a parish church in the City of London, and the parish boundaries lie between Coleman Street Ward and Broad Street Ward. It is known as the Bankers’ Church, because of its proximity to the back door of the Bank of England. The church has many associations with Saint Olave, Old Jewry, which I had visited earlier in the day.

Lothbury is a short street that runs east-west with traffic flow in both directions, from the junction of Gresham Street with Moorgate to the west, and the junction of Bartholomew Lane with Throgmorton Street to the east. The area was populated with coppersmiths in the Middle Ages before later becoming home to a number of merchants and bankers.

The church is dedicated to Saint Margaret of Antioch, or Saint Margaret the Virgin. She is known as Saint Marina the Great Martyr in the East, is celebrated as a saint in the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches on 20 July and on 17July in the Orthodox Church.

Her historical existence has been questioned, and she was declared apocryphal by Pope Gelasius I in 494. But devotion to her was revived in the West during the Crusades, which explains why a church in London was given her name in the 12th century.

There has been a church on this site since the 12th century, and the earliest mention of Saint Margaret Lothbury is from 1185.

It was rebuilt over the Walbrook in 1440, when a stone arch was erected over the brook in 1440 so that the church could be extended. The work was completed mostly at the expense of Robert Large, who was the Lord Mayor of London that year. He is remembered as the Master to whom William Caxton, the printer, served his apprenticeship.

The patronage of the church belonged to the Benedictine Abbess and Convent of Barking Abbey, Essex, until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539, when it passed to the Crown.

Saint Margaret Lothbury was rebuilt after the Great Fire of London in 1666 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Like so many London churches, this church was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 and was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren between 1686 and 1690. It is one of the 51 churches in London rebuilt by Wren after the fire. However, the tower may be the work of Robert Hooke.

When the Church of Saint Christopher le Stocks was demolished in 1781 to make way for an extension for the Bank of England, the parish was united with that of Saint Margaret Lothbury.

The site of Saint Mary Colechurch, at the junction of Poultry and the south end of Old Jewry … one of the many parishes united with Saint Margaret Lothbury (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

In 1839 Saint Bartholomew by the Exchange was added when its church was also demolished. The parishes of Saint Martin Pomeroy, Saint Mary Colechurch and Saint Olave Jewry, which were united to each other in 1670, and Saint Mildred Poultry, which was united to them in 1871, were added in 1886.

The form of this Wren church is a simple rectangle orientated north-south with a vestry to the east and a tower to the west end. The south elevation is faced in Portland stone while the others are rendered with stone dressings.

The four-stage tower is topped with a cupola and obelisk.

The church has fine contemporary fittings. There are cracks externally between the tower and the body of the church, which are being monitored.

The floor of the nave is also undulating as a result of differential settlement.

Inside the church, the reredos is a sumptuous example from the 17th century. The texts of the Ten Commandments are on the two centre panels, while on each side are the words of the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed.

The church has exceptionally fine 17th-century woodwork from other now-demolished Wren churches. This woodwork includes the reredos, the Communion rails and the baptismal font, which are thought to be by Wren’s carver, Grinling Gibbons. They all came from Saint Olave, Old Jewry.

The pulpit is the original pulpit of the Wren church, but the carved sounding board or tester and the rood screen, which was made in 1683-1684, both came from All Hallows the Great when it was pulled down in 1894.

Two paintings of Moses and Aaron flanking the high altar came from Saint Christopher le Stocks when it was demolished in 1781.

The monument to the alderman and Shakespeare Gallery founder John Boydell was among the memorials brought to Saint Margaret Lothnury from St Olave, Old Jewry, when that church was demolished in 1887, although his body was reburied in the City of London Cemetery in Ilford.

Other monuments on the walls and on the floor in the nave include memorials of early benefactors of the church.

Put on the whole armour of God … the late 20th century windows contain the coats of arms of the livery companies associated with Saint Margaret’s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The late 20th century windows contain the coats of arms of the City livery companies associated with Saint Margaret’s.

The ceremonial sword rests came into use after the Restoration in 1660 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

An unusual feature is the ceremonial sword rests. Sword rests came into general use in the City of London after the Restoration in 1660. When the Lord Mayor of London paid a ceremonial visit to city churches, his sword was placed in these rests. The two sword rests in Saint Margaret’s are fine examples of late 18th century hand-beaten ironwork.

The organ was built by George Pike England in 1801. It was restored in 1984, stands in its original case and contains nearly all its original pipework. Regular recitals take place at 110 p.m. on Thursdays, except in August.

The reredos in the south aisle chapel also comes from Saint Olave, Old Jewry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The south aisle was turned into a chapel in 1891 following the demolition of the south gallery. An open screen was made by reusing a Communion rail from Saint Olave, Old Jewry, at the base, while new work by GF Bodley formed the upper portion.

The reredos in this chapel also comes from Saint Olave, Old Jewry. The central panels originally contained the Ten Commandments, but they were replaced in 1908 with a painted diptych of the Annunciation.

The Baptismal Font is thought to come from the workshop of Grinling Gibbons. It is carved with reliefs depicting Adam and Eve, Noah’s Ark, the Baptism of Christ, and the Baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch by Saint Philip.

There is a small churchyard to the rear, where the notable burials include Hugh Clopton, (1440-1496), a Lord Mayor of London who was a benefactor of his home town of Stratford-upon-Avon, and William Copland, the printer and early publisher.

The church was designated a Grade I listed building on 4 January 1950.

Saint Margaret Lothbury still serves as a parish church in the Square Mile. It is also the official church of five Livery Companies, two Ward Clubs and two professional institutes. It also has connections with many local finance houses, all of which hold special services here each year.

Today, Saint Margaret Lothbury and Saint Mary Woolnoth form one parish in the Diocese of London in the Church of England.

There are no Sunday services, and the main services of the week are two informal lunchtime services on Wednesdays at Saint Margaret Lothbury and on Thursday at Saint Mary Woolnoth. Although they last from 12.50 to 2 p.m., they are planned so that people may come when they can and go when they have to. On Tuesday each week, there are more traditional Holy Communion services at 12.30 at Saint Mary Woolnoth and at 1.10 p.m. in Saint Margaret Lothbury.

The Rector is the Revd Jeremy Crossley, and the Rectory is in Saint Olave’s Court, on the site of the former Church of Saint Olave, Old Jewry.

Irish and Greek events mark the 2,400th
anniversary of the birth of Aristotle

The statue of the Greek philosopher Aristotle in Aristotelous Square in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

This year marks the 2,400th anniversary of the birth of Aristotle. To mark this unique anniversary, the Irish Hellenic Society is marking this unique anniversary at the inaugural meeting of its 2016 programme in Trinity College Dublin later next month (21 October 2016).

This inaugural lecture will focus on the subject of Aristotle’s life and works and on the celebration of his 2,400th birthday. The evening programme has been organised by the Irish Hellenic Society and the Department of Classics in Trinity College Dublin.

Four speakers will give short presentations on various aspects of Aristotle’s immense contribution to humanity: Paul Gregg, Aristotle’s Walk; Thomaë Kakouli-Duarte, Aristotle, Father of Biology; Eoghan Mac Aogáin, Aristotle’s Psychology; and Fran O’Rourke, An Aristotelian Approach to the World.

The American artist Paul Gregg’s exhibition ‘Inductive Probability’ is on view until 23 October 2016 at the Royal Hibernian Academy, 15 Ely Place, Dublin 2. He received a Fulbright Scholarship to Ireland, where he has lived since 1995, and is a lecturer at the Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design, and Technology. His Aristotle’s Walk (2012) is a columnar structure, the focal point of a memorial garden in the central courtyard of Saint Mary’s CBS, Portlaoise.

Dr Thomaé Kakouli-Duarte is, like Aristotle, from Macedonia in northern Greece. Following in Aristotle’s researches into parasitic nematodes, she is an international expert in the field of environmental nematology and one of the founding members and the current Director of enviroCORE, in the Institute of Technology, Carlow. There she researches innovative bio-environmental technologies with a view towards enhancing economic and social development in an environmentally friendly manner.

Eoghan Mac Aogáin studied philosophy at University College Dublin and psychology at the University of Alberta in Canada. He was a Research Fellow at the Educational Research Centre and subsequently Director of the Linguistics Institute of Ireland before his retirement. He has spoken to the Irish Hellenic Society on the Irish philosopher Iohannes Scottus Eriugena (ca 800–870) and, with his colleague Máire Nic Mhaoláin, recently edited a new Irish-English dictionary.

Fran O’Rourke, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, University College Dublin, has recently published a volume of essays Aristotelian Interpretations. He will describe early personal experiences that inspired a distinctively Aristotelian approach to the world. He will explain why for James Joyce Aristotle was ‘the greatest philosopher of all time.’

More information on the evening, the speakers and the topics, are available on the website of the Irish Hellenic Society.

Mount Olympus seen from Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

UNESCO has proclaimed 2016 as the Aristotle Anniversary Year. Aristotle can be seen as the founder of the concept of the democratic republic as the free, open political society of equal partners joined in friendship for achieving a just and qualitatively flourishing society. In his philosophy, he sought to bring into a unity all knowledge and all the arts for the practical possibility of human flourishing in democratic forms of government.

Greek archaeologists said earlier this year they believe they have discovered the lost tomb of Aristotle. Dr Kostas Sismanidis is almost sure that a 2,400-year-old domed vault he unearthed in ancient Stagira was the burial place of Aristotle.

Archaeologists have been working painstakingly for 20 years at the site where the philosopher was born in 384 BC in Macedonia. Dr Sismanidis said the architecture and location of the tomb, close to Stagira’s ancient square and with panoramic views, supported the assessment that it was the philosopher’s tomb.

Although little is known about Aristotle’s life despite many of his works surviving, two literary sources suggest that the people of Stagira may have transferred his ashes from Chalcis on the island of Euboea (Chalkida on Evia today) where he died in 322 BC.

The mounded domed tomb has a marble floor dated to the Hellenistic period. It is located in the centre of Stagira, near the Agora, with 360-degree views. The public character of the tomb is evident by its location alone. However, archaeologists also point to a hurried construction that was later topped with quality materials. There is an altar outside the tomb and a square-shaped floor.

The top of the dome is at 10 metres and there is a square floor surrounding a Byzantine tower. A semi-circular wall stands at two-metres in height. A pathway leads to the tomb’s entrance. Other findings included ceramics from the royal pottery workshops and fifty coins dated to the time of Alexander the Great. The tomb structure was destroyed by the Byzantines, who built a square tower above it.

Northern Greece has been the scene of several discoveries, though not all of them have been well received. In 2014, amid great fanfare, a tomb initially believed to be the long-sought burial place of Alexander the Great was found in Amphipolis, also in central Macedonia. But scholars later agreed this was not related to the Macedonian king.

Aristotelous Square (Πλατεία Αριστοτέλους, Aristotle Square) is the main square in the city centre in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Earlier this year [May 23-28 May 2016], this anniversary was celebrated appropriately when the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (AUTH) hosted an 250 Aristotle scholars from 40 countries at the World Congress ‘Aristotle 2400 Years.’

The congress was organised by the Interdisciplinary Centre for Aristotle Studies at the niversity uto mark the 2400th anniversary of Aristotle’s birth. It took place at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, in Stageira, the birthplace of Aristotle, and in Mieza, where Aristotle taught Alexander the Great.

The congress brought together scholarship on all aspects of Aristotle’s work, which spreads over the broadest range of topics, covering all major branches of philosophy and extending in an impressive way into areas related to all fundamental fields of science; a work whose impact is unique in size and influence in the history of the human intellect and which continues to be present in the intellectual evolution of Western civilisation.

Athens seen from the Acropolis (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Tertullian famously asked ‘What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?’, by which he meant ‘What has Greek philosophy to do with Christianity and theology?’ Aristotle’s principles of being influenced Anselm’s view of God, whom he called ‘that than which nothing greater can be conceived.’ Anselm thought that God did not feel emotions such as anger or love, but appeared to do so through our imperfect understanding. The incongruity of judging ‘being’ against something that might not exist, may have led Anselm to his famous ontological argument for God’s existence.

Aristotelian theological concepts were accepted by many later Jewish, Islamic, and Christian philosophers. Key Jewish philosophers included Samuel Ibn Tibbon, Maimonides and Gersonides. Their views of God are considered mainstream by many Jews to this day.

Islamic philosophers who were influenced by Aristotelian theology include Avicenna and Averroes.

In Christian theology, Thomas Aquinas is undoubtedly the key thinker influenced by Aristotle. Aquinas found his Aristotelian influence through the works of Avicenna, Averroes and Maimonides.

Through Aquinas and the Scholastic theology, Aristotle became academic theology’s great authority in the course of the 13th century, and his influence on Christian theology became widespread and deeply embedded. However, notable Christian theologians rejected Aristotelian theological influence, especially the first generation of Christian Reformers and most notably Martin Luther.

The year was also marked by a congress in Athens organised by the International Association of Greek Philosophy, the Greek Philosophical Society, the Philosophical Society of Cyprus and other societies, associations and educational institutions.

The World Philosophy Congress on the Philosophy of Aristotle, under the Auspices of the President of the Hellenic Republic and with the support of the International Federation of Philosophical Societies (FISP).

This congress took place in Athens where Aristotle lived most of his life. He studied and taught at Plato’s Academy for almost 20 years and later he founded the Lyceum where he taught and wrote his great works, and where the foundations were laid for philosophical and scientific research.

Plato’s pupil, Aristotle was enrolled at the court of ancient Macedonia as the tutor of Alexander the Great. He later travelled around the Aegean and Asia Minor before returning to Athens where he founded his own school, the Lyceum, in 335 BC. Remains of that complex were accidentally unearthed in Athens in 1996 during building work on a site then earmarked for a new museum of modern art. From beneath the unpaved parking lot the fabled Lyceum emerged, replete with a central courtyard and wrestling area, or palaestra.

In Thessaloniki, Aristotelous is the central and most famous square, linked to the seafront through Nikis Avenue. The square was designed by the French architect Ernest Hébrard in 1918, and the 12 buildings that encircle Aristotelous Square have been listed buildings since 1950. I have stayed here in the Electra Palace Hotel, and the square is also home to the Olympion Theatre cinema, the venue for the Thessaloniki Film Festival takes place, and many modern restaurants, cafés and bars, as well as street vendors and buskers. The square continues north as Aristotelous Street, a popular, pedestrianised, tree-lined street.

Sunset on the Gulf of Thermaikos in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)