Southwark Cathedral is a stunning, hidden gem just off Borough Market and close to London Bridge tube station. It is the oldest church building in London. There has been a church on the grounds since 606 AD and it was also the site of Roman pagan worship. The church contains so many beautiful things to see that it’s difficult to select the best. Instead, I’ve put together a list of my ten favourite parts of the Cathedral.
1.) Shakespeare’s Memorial Window
Southwark was Shakespeare’s parish and he worshipped at the cathedral when he lived near the Globe Theatre. His brother, Edmund Shakespeare was buried on the church grounds in December, 1607 but the exact location of his grave is unknown. Edmund has a memorial in the floor of the choir section. Shakespeare has a beautiful stain glass window dedicated to him that depicts characters from his plays.
2.) Shakespeare’s Memorial statue
Below the Memorial Window, there is a stunning statue of Shakespeare in repose. Behind him, you can make out the lovely details of Southwark Cathedral and the Globe Theatre. The alabaster statue was created in 1912 by Henry McCarthy.
3.) Bishop Lancelot Andrewes Tomb
Bishop Lancelot Andrewes was born in Barking, near the Tower of London in 1555. He was a high ranking bishop during the reigns of Queen Elizabeth I and James I of England (James VI of Scotland). He was a key translator of the King James version of the Bible, assisted at King James’s coronation, wrote a sermon following the Gunpowder Plot which defined the nature of celebrations and was used as the standard for another four hundred years. He was one of the most learned churchmen of his day. Later in life, he became Dean of Winchester until his death on September 25th, 1626, at age 71. Southwark Cathedral belonged to the diocese of Winchester at the time, and he was buried in the cathedral. His feast day is celebrated on September 25th.
4 .) Poet Laureate, John Gower’s Tomb
John Gower (1330-1408) was a famous medieval English poet. He was a contemporary of William Langland and close friend of Geoffrey Chaucer. He also personally knew Richard II, to whom he dedicated his first editions of Confessio Amantis. In the 1370s, he moved into Southwark Cathedral’s priory and remained there until his death at age 78. He is interred in the cathedral’s north aisle with his head resting on his three most famous works: Confessio Amantis
,Speculum Meditantis, and Vox Clamantis.
5.) The Humble Monument
Depicts Alderman Richard Humble, and his two wives, Elizabeth and Isabel. He was a member of the church vestry.
6.) The Harvard Chapel
Our American visitors, especially those hailing from Boston, Massachusetts, will be interested to see this particular part of the cathedral. John Harvard, the founder of Ivy League school, Harvard College, was baptised in this cathedral in 1607. Harvard’s grandfather, Thomas Rogers, knew William Shakespeare’s father. Harvard was born and raised in Southwark before marrying and moving to New England where he died of tuberculosis at the age of 30 in 1638.
7.) The High Altar Screen
This beautiful screen was erected in 1520 by Bishop Fox. The figures include St. Olaf, (King Olaf II of Norway) who converted to Christianity. He is most famous for pulling down London Bridge to protect the city from a Danish assault. It is rumoured that the traditional child’s nursery rhyme, London Bridge is Falling Down was attributed to the destruction of the bridge by Olaf.
It also includes, fourteenth century poet John Gower, King Henry I (who was King when the priory was founded in 1106), Thomas Becket, Saint Peter, Saint Paul, Cardinal Beaufort, Bishop Fox, and several others.
This incredible wooden carving of a knight dates to around 1280. It is believed the knight’s family had ties to the cathedral and that he may have been a Crusader.
9.) Original Medieval Nave Walls
This depicts the original thirteenth century arcading and is located near the baptismal font in the south aisle part of the Nave.
10.) Medieval Roof Bosses
Towards the back of the church, in the nave’s south aisle and near the baptismal font, there are some intriguing wooden roof bosses dating to the Middle Ages. Apparently, they removed part of the buttresses and as a result, the Nave roof collapsed in 1469. These bosses were part of the rebuilt wooden vaulted roof. There were at one time 150 bosses, and you can still see the bright remnants of paint used to decorate them.
Entry is free, there is a suggested donation of £4. If you want to take pictures, you pay £2.50 for a permit and this can be bought on site with no issues.
Slideshow of Southwark Cathedral
For more information about Southwark Cathedral, please visit their website: cathedral.southwark.anglican.org