Excavations at the site in 2006 led to the discovery of a grave dated about 410. The site is outside the city limits of Roman London (as was the usual Roman practice for burials), but is particularly interesting for being so far outside, and this is leading to a reappraisal of Westminster's importance at that time. The burial is thought by some to mark a Christian centre of that time (possibly reusing the site or building of a pagan temple).
The church was rebuilt by Henry VIII in 1542 to avoid plague victims from the area having to pass through his Palace of Whitehall. At this time, it was literally "in the fields" in an isolated position between the cities of Westminster and London.
The church survived the Great Fire of London which did not reach as far as the City of Westminster, but was replaced with a new building, designed by James Gibbs in 1721 and completed five years later. The design was criticised widely at the time but subsequently became extremely famous, being copied particularly widely in the United States. The church is essentially rectangular, with a great pediment in the Classical style supported by a row of huge Corinthian columns. The high steeple is topped with a gilt crown. Gibbs was certainly inspired by Sir Christopher Wren as the interior is very similar to St James's in Piccadilly.
Various 18th century notables were soon buried in the new church, including the émigré sculptor Roubiliac (who had settled in this area of London) and the furniture-maker Thomas Chippendale (whose workshop was in the same street as the church, St Martin's Lane), along with Jack Sheppard in the now-lost adjoining churchyard.
Because of its prominent position, St Martin-in-the-Fields is one of the most famous non-cathedral churches in London. Its ethos as the "Church of the Ever Open Door" (a title coined by Dick Sheppard, Vicar in the early 20th Century when the work with homeless people was started) continues today, even though it is not possible for it literally to be the case. It is famous for its work with homeless people through The Connection at St Martin's as well as its regular lunchtime and evening concerts. Many ensembles perform at the church, including the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields which was co-founded by Sir Neville Marriner and John Churchill, the then Master of Music at St Martin's. There is a popular Café in the Crypt, where jazz concerts are held. All profits from this go to the work of the church. The crypt is also home to the London Brass Rubbing Centre, an art gallery and a book and gift shop.
In January 2006 work began on a £36 million renewal project. The project includes cleaning and renewing the church itself as well as provision of facilities for visitors, music, parish and social care, which encompass not only the church's crypt but also a row of buildings to the north and some significant new underground spaces in between. The funding includes a grant of £15.35 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The church and crypt are now reopen and all the work is scheduled to be complete in early summer 2008. As part of the public fundraising, it is possible to sponsor a pane of glass and 'Give light to St Martin's'.