Not too far from St. Paul’s cathedral sits the church of St. Benet Paul’s Wharf. This small brick church stands almost forgotten in a quiet area just off of Upper Thames Street in the City that has been remarkably transformed after the Second World War. Like most London City churches, it has an ancient history, and was at risk of being completely lost to us.
St. Benet is a shortened version of St. Benedict, and a church has stood on this spot since 1111. The landscape of the area looked very different in medieval times – with the wharves and Baynard’s castle nearby. The church was famously mentioned in Shakespeare’s comedy Twelfth Night, and its most famous association is with Inigo Jones – the architect – who was buried in the church in 1652, though his original monument was lost in the Great Fire along with the rest of the building.
The current building was built by Christopher Wren and completed in 1684. The interior of the church still has its galleries, and features a pulpit by Grinling Gibbons. When visiting this church be sure to pay attention to details – from the Welsh flags, the beautiful candlestick holders, and font – there are many overlooked pieces of art in this church. If you’re looking for something more unusual – St. Benet Paul’s Wharf boasts some wonderful historic graffiti (Mostly 18C) throughout the main body of the church. While church graffiti is found commonly elsewhere in stone, here inscriptions can be found in the wood on the walls – and in particularly some of the pews nearer the altar. At one point the wood used for some of the pews must have been in use elsewhere, as fragmented inscriptions, as well as complete panels of upside down inscriptions (the orientation likely changed when the wood was reused to make the pew) have survived.
In 1879 the church was in danger of being demolished. Welsh Anglicans wrote to save the church in order to use it for their own services, and Queen Victoria agreed, allowing for services to be conducted in Welsh – which still take place regularly.
Perhaps one of the most special aspects of this church is that it is the only unaltered and unrestored Wren church in the City as the others were victims of damage from either the Second World War or IRA bombings. So if you want to see a church that is as close to possible to what Wren built at the time – this is it!