Monday, September 28, 2015

Everyday History

This past weekend was Open House London, an event that allows people to visit hundreds of buildings in London for free. On Sunday I decided to take advantage of this opportunity and visited Temple Church, Inner and Middle Temple Inns, and St. Mary's Church in Merton. All of the buildings I visited were beautiful. While I learned a lot about the history of each place, St. Mary's stood out to me as somewhat different.

So often when we hear about foreign cities we talk about the historical importance of national symbols. We hear about all the history contained in Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, or one of the many Cathedrals throughout England. St. Mary's Church is almost as old, or older than these famous places. It was originally built in 1115, and has retained several original features even as it went through many additions and reparations over the centuries.

The new walls at St. Mary’s were built using the rubble from the originals. 

St. Mary’s Church (and Churchyard cat)
St. Mary's is not unique in London in being so old. This building is different from monuments like Westminster Abbey because it is still used everyday. It is a part of the community with an active parish, community events, youth groups, and volunteer parties.

It was very different to visit a building that was full of history but still being actively used for its original purpose. St. Mary's isn't mainly visited by tourists, it seems to be a central part of the community there. I don't see this often in the US. Almost any building that was 9 centuries old would be protected and walled off from the public, carefully controlled. There wouldn't be friendly parishioners selling tea and cakes inside. Looking around the rest of London, I realized that using or even living in very old, historical buildings isn’t so odd after all. I guess if London didn't use any of its historical buildings there wouldn't be much space left for anyone to live!

Norman arch at St. Mary’s from the original church building. 

The glass in this window has been replaced, but the original window remains intact. 
I’m looking forward to exploring London to find more places like St. Mary’s where history and present day meet. I’m sure that I will find plenty of history all around me, now that I know where to look! 

You can find out more about St. Mary's church on their website here