Christchurch Greyfriars is one of those places you stumble across in London without meaning to. It is a peaceful garden planted in an old church where butterflies flutter, bees buzz, birds tweet and the traffic of a big city almost fades into the background. The colours are mainly blue and white, with the odd splash of deep red. The layout mirrors that of the church it replaced, with wooden towers representing columns, albeit festooned with climbers. It is one of I don’t know how many such places superbly maintained by the City of London parks and gardens people, bless their little green souls.
The original church attached to a Franciscan monastery was built in the 13th century; the ‘greyfriars’ comes from the colour of the monks’ habits. By the mid-14th century, this had become the second largest church in medieval London. Inside, so ‘tis said, it was sumptuous, with seven altars, many marbled tombs and all the usual trappings. The monastery was dissolved during the Reformation in 1538 and the exuberant interior of the church wrecked by religious hooligans. Then it was totally destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, one of 87 churches lost in that disaster. A new church, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, was constructed on the foundations of the old. Amongst its features, allegedly, were pews made from the timbers of a Spanish galleon. Alas, Christchurch Greyfriars became a victim to one of the most damaging air raids of London’s Blitz on the night of Sunday 29th December 1940, when an estimated 24,000 high explosive bombs and 100,000 incendiaries were dropped by the Luftwaffe. The iconic picture of nearby St Paul’s Cathedral was shot the following day. The shell of the church remains; the vestry is now a dental practice and the tower is a private residence.
I should have guessed that a place like this had a reputation for being haunted. The remains of no less than four queens and other sundry famous folk were buried here. In no particular order: the heart of Queen Eleanor of Provence (d 1291), wife of King Henry III; Margaret of France (d 1318), 2nd wife of King Edward I; Queen Isabella (d 1358) the “she-wolf of France”, wife of Edward II; and Joan de la Tour (d 1362), Isabella’s daughter and Queen of Scotland, all ended up in Greyfriars. Isabella was, famously, lover of Roger Mortimer, who was executed for treason and possibly also initially buried at Greyfriars before being moved elsewhere. Legend has it that Isabella was buried in her wedding dress with her husband’s heart in her hand. Also interred here was Lady Agnes Hungerford, a great beauty, hanged at Tyburn in 1523 for her first husband’s murder, and the Mad, or Holy, Maid of Kent, Elizabeth Barton, a nun executed for treason having prophesied the death of King Henry VIII if he married Anne Boleyn. Apparently, Sir Thomas Mallory, who wrote Le Morte d’Arthur, is also round about here somewhere…what happened to them all, I wonder?
The ghosts you need to watch out for are those of Elizabeth Barton, Queen Isabella, Lady Agnes, an unidentified monk – and a dog. Rather amusingly, Isabella and Agnes don’t appear to get on too well and have been seen having a slanging match.
I sat there in this little oasis, happily chewing my sandwich, watching the butterflies, birds and bees all do their stuff. Just across the road are the offices of my least favourite company, BT. I briefly toyed with the idea of lobbying parliament to introduce capital punishment for really awful customer service. Then I decided it would be quicker to call upon on the spirits that haunt this place, and ask them to pay a visit to the executive offices opposite. Let that be a lesson to anyone who decides to take me on.
See the City of London's website for more about Christchurch Greyfriars. The nearest tube station is St Paul's (Central Line - the red one).
Taking part in INSPIRED SUNDAY meme
Taking part in INSPIRED SUNDAY meme