St Mary Aldermary History
There has been a church on this site for over 900 years and its name is usually taken to mean that it is the oldest of the City churches dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Although the early records of the church were burnt in the Great Fire of London, it is known that the Benedictine Foundation of Christ Church Canterbury were the founding benefactors of St Mary Aldermary, who had the right to be consulted about the appointment of Priests. It is therefore most likely that St Mary Aldermary was founded by the Benedictine Monastic Order in the heart of the City of London in the period of the re-evangelisation of England in the Anglo-Saxon period. Unfortunately the first church records that have been retained after the great fire, begin in the 16th Century and now housed in the Guildhall Museum. The Guild Church Council still retains ownership of a number of priceless medieval Church artefacts. For example the Victoria and Albert Museum keep in safe keeping a medieval monstrance used before the 16th century in weekly worship.
Stow, in his 1598 Survey of London, mentioned various dignitaries who were benefactors or who were buried in the early church. These include Richard Chaucer, vintner, a relative of the poet Geoffrey Chaucer.
In 1510, Sir Henry Keeble, a grocer and Lord Mayor, financed the building of a new church on the site. When he died in 1518, however, the tower was substantially unfinished and remained so until 1629 when two legacies enabled it to be completed. The church was said to have been among the largest and finest of the City’s churches and a number of City notables were buried there. John Milton, the poet, married his third wife in the church in 1663. The parish registers date from 1558, the year Elizabeth I ascended the throne. All documents now extant are deposited in the Guildhall Library.
The Great Fire of London
Although the church was one of the 89 City churches destroyed or badly damaged in the Great Fire of 1666, the foundations and parts of the walls, as well as the base of the tower, remained intact. Some money was provided for temporary repair of the tower in 1676, but it was not until 1679 that finance became available for major restoration of the church. In many of the histories of the church it is said that the money came from the estate of Henry Rogers, a wealthy Somerset gentleman, and was given on condition that the new church would be a copy of the old building. While it is true that the benefactor was Henry Rogers, it is now established that no such condition was imposed by him.
After the Great Fire
The post-Fire church, built in the period 1679-82 under the supervision of John Oliver, one of Christopher Wren’s deputies, does, however follow the Late Perpendicular style of the Keeble church. There are probably several reasons for this: the fact that it was the wish of the parish that the structure of the new church should as far as possible be like that of the old, the greater independence which the parish had in the design of the church because they were not reliant on money from the Coal Tax, and the economic sense of making use of the walls and the foundations that remained after the Fire. The church is the only surviving Wren church in the City of London built in the Gothic style.
World War II
The church escaped relatively lightly in the 1939-45 War: all the windows were shattered and some plaster fell from the vaulting but the building itself remained intact.
The Spandrels and Vaulting
Departures from a late mediaeval fabric lie in the mouldings in the spandrels (the coats of arms are those of Henry Rogers except in the two spandrels nearest the chancel where the arms are those of the See of Canterbury and of Archbishop Sancroft); and in the unique plaster vaulting in the nave and aisles which makes the church such a joy to visit. It will be noticed that the east wall lies at an angle; this is because, when originally built, the wall followed the line of an existing passageway.
The beauty and wonderful state of repair of the Guild Church of St Mary Aldermary is largely due to the vision, determination and ministry of Fr John Mothersole, the Guild Church Vicar who retired in December 2010.
In 2010 the Bishop of London invited the Moot Community to bring renewal and mission to this ancient church. The Church still has a functioning Guild Church Council governance system. From January 2011, the Ven. David Meara, the Archdeacon of London became the Priest-in-Charge, and the Revd. Ian Mobsby became the Associate Mission Priest of St Mary Aldermary, with responsibility for the day to do running of the church. The Moot Community now of St Mary Aldermary focus their efforts on an ancient-future perspective, incorporating traditional sacrament into their missional perspective.
A full history of the church including concise information on monuments, windows, furnishings and past clergy can be found here.