To paraphrase Dorothy: 'There is no place like London.' I hope I can convince you of that here. Also check out my blog at damselwithadulcimer.wordpress.com and my theatre reviews at www.playstosee.com
Published February 11th 2012
St-Martin-in-the-Fields is no longer surrounded by greenery, but is an urban church, sitting close to Trafalgar Square, St Martin's Lane, The Strand and Charing Cross Station. Neither is it the first church to occupy the present site. In 1222 St Martin's (then enclosed by fields) was used by the monks of Westminster. Three hundred and twenty years later Henry VIII built a new church, which was enlarged in 1607, only to be demolished in 1721 and replaced by the current building, designed by James Gibbs.
The present day church has had strong connections with the homeless since 1948 and currently cares for about 7,500 people each year. If you enter the church today outside of service times, you will probably see several people sitting, or sleeping, in pews all around. There is also a strong awareness of London's multicultural community, especially from Chinatown, and its residents are catered for by the Ho Ming Wah Chinese People's Day Centre.
A new altar was dedicated on St Martin's Day last year, 13 November, and this is framed by the minimalistic east window, inspired by 'Jacob's ladder'. If you would like to know more about the church, its crypt and vaults, guided tours can be booked by phoning 020 7766 1107, but these are usually heavily subscribed.
St Martin's is possibly better known for its crypt, which is far more crowded than the area upstairs. The Café in the Crypt is open throughout the week and serves breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner. The café is self-service and is very reasonably priced with a menu that changes daily.
The crypt is also home to many atmospheric concerts, both classical and jazz, lunchtime and evening. Some of the lunchtime ones are even free. On St Martin's Day in 1959 The Academy of St Martins in the Fields, a small string orchestra, gave their first concert here, deriving their name from their first musical venue. The orchestra has since grown in size and stature, as have the programmes of music at the church. Information on forthcoming events and St Martin's chamber music competition can be found on the church's website.
You could try to identify some of the well trodden tomb stones that are laid out in the crypt, although an order from 1774 decreed that no further graves were to be dug in the vaults under the church.
Whilst in the crypt, don't forget to visit the shop, the exhibitions in the Gallery and the London Brass Rubbing Centre.
St Martins can be reached by train from Charing Cross, or by tube from Charing Cross or Embankment. Trafalgar Square is also well served by many bus routes. Opening times for the church, the cafe, the shop, gallery, brass rubbing centre and concerts vary, so it is advisable to check the website for further information.