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the Phoenix of the Barbican From time to time in Barbican Life we have described one or other of the churches in the vicinity of the Barbican in some detail but have not done so for the church which is right in our midst – historic St Giles-without-Cripplegate – although the rector, Katharine Rumens, does pen a regular column in these pages. We are indebted to the St Giles website and the Friends of St. Giles, which helps raise funds to maintain the historic building, for most of the information in this article.

St Giles-without-Cripplegate - S t. Giles’ Church

Cripplegate is one of the few remaining mediaeval churches in the City of London and is at the heart of the Barbican. It is said that there has been a church on this spot for a thousand years. We know nothing about the early Saxon church, which was probably a little chantry or chapel made of wattle and daub. In 1090 a Norman church stood on this site, built by Alfune who afterwards assisted Rahere in building the neighbouring church of St Bartholomew the Great. Sometime during the Middle Ages, the Church was dedicated to St. Giles. The word “Cripplegate” probably has nothing to do with cripples, although no doubt there would have been plenty of cripples by the Cripplegate, wanting alms from travellers as they entered and left the City. The word comes from the Anglo-Saxon “cruplegate” which means a covered way or tunnel which ran from the town gate of Cripplegate to the Barbican, a fortified watchtower on the City wall. Sections of the wall can be seen near the Church; the foundations are generally Roman but higher up the structure is of varying dates as it was regularly strengthened and rebuilt. In 1760 the gate, up to then used as a storehouse and a prison, was sold to a carpenter in Coleman Street for £91. The Church was outside the wall at the Cripplegate, hence ‘St. Giles- without’.

As the population of the parish increased, the church was enlarged and was rebuilt in the perpendicular


style in 1394 during the reign of Richard II. It has been extensively restored on three occasions after fire damage. The first fire occurred in 1545 in the reign of Henry VIII. The restoration plans of that year remained in Lambeth Palace, and were used in the restoration after the Second World War by Godfrey Allen. The main difference between the present and the mediaeval church is that the separation of the chancel and the nave has become less obvious. There is now little to show the difference, except the corbels representing musicians which support the clerestory shafts of the original chancel. What appears to be a remarkably truncated chancel is

just that, for the end wall was once extended further back.

The church escaped the Great Fire of London in 1666 but was badly burnt in the Cripplegate Fire of 1897 and again during the Second World War. There was a direct hit on the north door in the summer of 1940, and in the following December the church was showered with so many incendiary bombs that even the cement caught alight. All that remained was the shell, the arcade in the chancel, the outside walls and the tower. The roof, the furnishings and most of the monuments were destroyed, but some valuable items were saved. These include Church Registers,

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