September 14th, 2021

St Michael Paternoster Royal

Since it was just across the road from where we'd parked the car I popped into St Michael's Paternoster Royal- which is one of Wren's city churches and the last to be completed.

St Michael's is Dick Whittington's church. He spent money on it and was buried there. The story goes that an 18th century rector dug him up in case he'd chosen to be buried with all his money- but he hadn't so the rector took Whittington's lead coffin in recompense for all his time and trouble. A later rector dug him up again in order to reinstate the coffin- and the last time there was an attempt to dig him up (in the interests of science don'tcha know) they couldn't find Whittington at all but only a mummified cat. I'm not sure how much truth there is in any of this but I like it.

Wren's church is basically a square box. the Victorians mucked it about but their work was undone by a German bomb. There was a move to demolish what was left but the preservationists won the day- and put it back the way Wren intended. Unfortunately, though 17th century churches are really much better off without stained glass, someone thought otherwise- and commissioned John Hayward to fill the windows with eye-assaulting imagery that makes up in melodrama for what it lacks in conviction.

The thing that really caught my eye was the lectern, with its striking pearwood (?) carving of a female virtue- probably Charity. I thought it had to be modern but when I got home I looked it up and Historic England website calls it composite and 17th century. Now I look at it properly I can see that this is what it has to be. Anyway, whatever it's age, I love it- mainly because the woman is no idealised classical paragon but clearly a real person. I suspect the carver was one of the refugee Dutchmen hanging out just across the river in Southwark. Perhaps she was a tavern wench. Perhaps she was his daughter...


A closer look at the peculiar creature that Charity is standing on.

In the classic Christian scheme of things- worked out over centuries- there are seven virtues and seven vices and they go in pairs. The vice attendant on or opposite to Charity is Avarice or Greed- and that, I suppose, is who this is meant to be.