15 August 2022
Saint Margaret Pattens,
a City church by Wren
with an unusual name
Two of us spent a few hours in the City of London one evening last week, and I found time to visit a number of City churches, including Saint Margaret Pattens, a guild church on Eastcheap.
A church dedicated to Saint Margaret of Antioch has stood on this site for more than 950 years. The first church on the site dedicated to Saint Margaret of Antioch was recorded in 1067, when the church was probably built from wood.
The church was rebuilt in stone at a later date but fell into disrepair and was demolished in 1530 and rebuilt in 1538.
The church was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. The present church was built by Sir Christopher Wren between 1684 and 1687.
The church exterior is notable for its 200-ft high spire, Wren’s third highest and the only one that he designed in a mediaeval style. This is sometimes referred to as Wren’s only ‘true spire.’
Inside, the church is a simple rectangle with some unusual fittings. These include the only canopied pews in London. They date from the 17th century, and were intended for the churchwardens. The initials ‘CW’ in one of the pews have been thought to refer to Christopher Wren, but they may also signify ‘church warden.’
Other interior features include a punishment box carved with the Devil’s head where wrongdoers had to sit during church services.
Saint Margaret Pattens is one of only a few City churches to have escaped significant damage in World War II, and it was designated a Grade I listed building in 1950.
The church ceased to be a parish church in 1953 and became one of the City’s guild churches, within the living of the Lord Chancellor and under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of London. The church is the Guild Church of the Worshipful Company of Pattenmakers and the Worshipful Company of Basketmakers, two of the City livery companies.
The church has a regular weekday congregation, rather than Sunday congregation, drawn mostly from people who work in offices nearby. A traditional service of Holy Communion is celebrated at 1 pm on Thursdays, with a short address and music.
The priest-in-charge of Saint Margaret Pattens is the Revd Andrew Keep. The tower accommodates the office of the Archdeacon of Hackney.
Several churches in London were dedicated to Saint Margaret. For example, Saint Margaret Lothbury, is dedicated to Saint Margaret of Antioch. So too is Saint Margaret’s in the grounds of Westminster Abbey on Parliament Square, which is the parish church of the House of Commons. So, Saint Margaret’s on Eastcheap became known as Saint Margaret Pattens.
The name is traditionally said to derive from pattens, wooden-soled overshoes, later soled with raised iron rings. These raised shoes enabled people to walk about the streets of London without muddying their feet. Parishioners were asked to remove these pattens as they entered the church.
Another suggestion is that the name commemorates a benefactor, possibly Ranulf Patin, a mediaeval canon at Saint Paul’s Cathedral, although it would be most unusual for a benefactor to be commemorated in this way.
Saint Margaret of Antioch 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 17 July in the Orthodox Church.
She was a virgin and martyr whose tortures and martyrdom became famous in early church history.
According to the legend, she was the daughter of a third or fourth century pagan priest in Antioch. She was either thrown out of the house by her father when she converted to Christianity or was converted by her nursemaid. She was noticed by the local prefect who wanted to marry her, but she spurned him and vowed to keep her virginity for Christ.
He handed her over to the Roman authorities. In prison she was swallowed by Satan in the form of a dragon. But the cross she was carrying irritated his throat, and he spat her out unharmed.
Her persecutors tried to kill her by fire and by drowning, but each time she survived, converting the growing crowd of onlookers. Finally, she was beheaded, along with her many converts, by Emperor Diocletian (245-313 AD). She was buried at Antioch, but her remains were taken later to Italy where they were divided between shrines in Montefiascone and Venice.