I've visited many churches within the City of London, but have never had to say 'Wow' before now; such was the effect on me of St Bartholomew the Great. On passing through the Gatehouse it's obvious that you will be in for a treat, and then when you are greeted by Philip Stewart, the Resident Verger and Senior Doorkeeper, and Gordon Furry, the Second Verger and Doorkeeper, it's difficult not to catch their friendliness and enthusiasm.
When they explain that there is no other church in London quite like this one, you begin to wonder what will be in store, but when you pass through the door in the Pulpitum and into the church you will find yourself gasping in amazement.
There is a sense of tranquillity and an aroma of old bricks and incense that are hard to ignore. The feeling of history is palpable and you can almost imagine you can still hear the monks singing as they went about their devotions before the Reformation.
The Priory Church was built in 1123 (during the reign of Henry I), and formed part of a monastery. Its founder was Prior Rahere, a former courtier of the king. He had fallen ill on a pilgrimage to Rome and made a promise to set up a hospital for the poor if he recovered. On his journey back to England he saw a vision of Saint Bartholomew, requesting him to found a church outside the city walls of London. He complied with this, building both an Augustinian Priory and a hospital, serving as both prior and master. He is buried in the church.
In 1539 Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, including St Bartholomew's, and under Elizabeth I it became a parish church. It doesn't boast any famous tombs or memorials, merely the baptism of William Hogarth, the artist, but will not fail to impress.
An interesting contrast in such an old church is the painting of the Madonna and Child by the artist, Alfredo Roldan. This was commissioned in 1998.