A Pilgrim’s Guide to Sacred London
by John Michell and Jason Goodwin, Argonaut, £7.99
This charming little book is an invitation to “look beyond the tile and concrete, the asphalt and plate glass” of modern London and relish the fact that “sacred things do break through this carapace”. A series of manageable itineraries guide the reader to places both famous and less familiar, and I can’t think of a better volume to have in your pocket.
The churches are all here, from the dome of St Stephen Walbrook, Wren’s prototype for St Paul’s, to St Magnus-the-Martyr on Lower Thames Street, suffocated by later buildings but with one of the finest interiors in town.
It’s always amazing to realise just how much history such places have seen: St Botolph-without-Aldgate, for instance. It apparently houses the head of Lady Jane Grey’s father (not on display) and was where a Persian merchant was buried according to Muslim practice in 1626. For good measure, Chaucer and Newton both lived close by and Daniel Defoe chose it when tying the marital knot.
The category of the sacred moves well beyond ecclesiastical buildings in these pages. Holborn Viaduct is a bit of a surprise, but it is apparently a prime example of “Victorian mythologising”. The great Doric column of the Monument also crops up and we’re informed that its hollow shaft was designed for astronomical observations.
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