King Edward the Martyr

St Magnus-the-Martyr

St Magnus-the-Martyr is an Anglican church in Bridge ward of the City of London, located on Lower Thames Street near the modern London Bridge. It is a part of the Diocese of London and under the care of the Bishop of Fulham.


The church is dedicated to St Magnus, Earl of Orkney, who died in 1117. It is mis-named as St Magnus was not martyred for his religious beliefs but was executed after being captured during a power struggle with his cousin, a political rival.

Early church

The church of St Magnus is mentioned in the Westminster Charter, dated 1067. However, this document is now accepted to be a 12th century forgery. The first church on the site was probably built in the early 12th century. In pictures from the mid-16th century the old church looks very similar to the present-day St Giles-without-Cripplegate in the Barbican. After the Reformation, the church was home to a series of distinguished rectors, including Myles Coverdale, John Young (Bishop of Rochester), and Theophilus Aylmer, son of John Aylmer and Archdeacon of London in the early years of the seventeenth century.

The Great Fire

St Magnus' was one of the first buildings to be destroyed in the Great Fire of London, in 1666, as it stood less than 300 yards from Pudding Lane, where the fire started. It was rebuilt by 1676, under the direction of Sir Christopher Wren. A steeple, copied from the church of St Charles Borromée, in Antwerp, was added thirty years later..

Second fire

Another fire, in 1760, damaged the western end of the church and destroyed several of the buildings on the neighbouring Old London Bridge. Instead of repairing the buildings on the bridge the opportunity was taken to demolish them all to widen the roadway and ease traffic congestion. At the same time a new pedestrian walkway was built along the eastern side of the bridge.

With the other buildings gone St Magnus' blocked the new walkway so the western end of the church was demolished. Rather than demolish the church tower its base was opened out to allow the walkway to pass through it. The open base of the tower now forms the church porch.

The large clock projecting from the tower was a well-known landmark in the City, and would have hung over the roadway of Old London Bridge.

Anglo-Catholic influence

The interior of the church survived the Blitz of World War II intact and stands in contrast to the interiors of the other London city churches. It was restored by Martin Travers in 1924, in a neo-baroque style, and reflects the Anglo-Catholic character of the congregation.

The high altar is backed by a two-storey high reredos and flanked by two side-chapels. On the north wall there is a Russian icon, painted in 1908, and in the north aisle is a shrine containing a fragment of the True Cross. In the south aisle stands a statue of St Magnus, holding a model of the church.

Stained glass

One of the windows in the north wall dates from 1671 and is from the old Plumber's Hall. The windows in the south wall are all modern and represent lost churches associated with the parish: St Magnus and his ruined church of Egilsay, St Margaret with her lost church in New Fish Street (where the Monument to the Great Fire now stands), St Michael with his lost church of Crooked Lane (demolished to make way for the present King William Street) and St Thomas with his chapel on Old London Bridge.

Model of Old London Bridge

In the vestibule of the church stands a fine model of Old London Bridge. One of the tiny figures on the bridge appears out of place in the medieval setting, wearing a policeman's uniform. This is rumoured to be a representation of the model-maker who was formerly in the police service.

Relics of the past

In 1921 two stones from Old London Bridge were discovered across the road from the church. They now stand in the churchyard. In 1931 a piling from a Roman river wall was discovered during the excavation of the foundations of a nearby building. It now stands in the church porch.

Poetic reference

This church is referred to briefly in the poem The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot at line 265.


External links

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