Colin Crosby Heritage Tours

Southwark Cathedral (London)

The Cathedral of St. Saviour and St. Mary Overie is one of the oldest buildings in London, but actually in Southwark, on the South side of London Bridge.

There is little doubt that the cathedral has the least picturesque setting of any English cathedral, but conversely it can be said more than any other to be set in the real world that it seeks to proclaim its Christian message.

There has been a Christian presence on this site since the 9th century, when there was a nunnery here, served by the church of St. Mary Overie.

It was refounded in the 10th century by St. Swithun of Winchester, whose Bishops long had a palace nearby. It became an Augustinian foundation in 1106.

There are some remains of the Norman church, but substantial parts of thre building date from the 15th century.

The 13th century retrochoir, containing the Lady Chapel, came close to demolition in 1832, so that a wider approach to London Bridge could be constructed. Dr. Sumner, Bishop of Winchester, refused to sanction this, and he was backed by Parliament.

In Elizabeth I's reign, St. Saviour's was so impoverished that the Lady Chapel was rented out to a baker, and pigs were kept in the choir.

In today's Lady Chapel are windows commemorating Bishop John Hooper of Gloucester and Bishop Robert Ferrer of St. Davids, both of whom were condemned to death here in 1555.

John Gower, a friend of Geoffrey Chaucer, was buried here in 1408, as was the brother of William Shakespeare in 1607, as well as the dramatist John Fletcher.

Also in 1607, John Harvard, the founder of Harvard University, was baptised here.

St. Saviour's became a cathedral in 1904.

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