St Bride's: History

Chapter I: Intro

Stepping into 2,000 years of history. The story of St Bride's is woven into the fabric of the City of London.
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Chapter II: AD43 - 1000

The dawn of our history: a Roman house near Lud Gate. Brigid: saintly teenager & default bishop
Photo Credit: Peter Dazeley
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Chapter III: 1000 - 1500

An accident of medieval geography brings importance
Photo Credit: Paul Freeman
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Chapter IV: 1500 - 1665

Wynkyn de Worde came to St Bride's and it was time to start the presses
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Chapter V: 1665 - 1666

Plague pits, nosegays, brokers of the dead & a torrent of flame.
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Chapter VI: 1666 - 1730

'Will you rebuild our church, Mr Wren?'
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Chapter VII: 1730 - 1940

The rise and rise of the Fourth Estate
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Chapter VIII: 1940 - 1957

The night St Bride's luck ran out
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Chapter IX: 1957 - 1989

Wynkyn de Worde's revolution ends in tears
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Chapter X: 1989 - 2014

St Bride's: a church for the 21st century
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Chapter II: AD43 - 1000

Medieval Chapel in St Bride's Crypt

Roman pavement on display in St Bride's crypt
Photo Credit: Peter Dazeley

Historians and religious scholars had always accepted that there had been a site of Christian worship alongside the Fleet River and close to the Lud Gate, now known as Ludgate Circus, in the heart of the ancient City of London, for about 1,000 years.

When the Romans established Londinium following the invasion under the emperor Claudius in 43 AD, they dug a mysterious extra-mural ditch on the site of the future church and built a house, which seems likely to have been one of the earliest sites of worship. A Roman pavement can be seen to this day on display in the much-restored crypts of the church.

More than four centuries were to pass before the name of St Bride became associated with the site. But that association was to last throughout subsequent recorded history.

Born in 453 AD, shortly after St Patrick, Bride (or St Brigid) was the daughter of a prince and a druidic slave. As a teenager with an overwhelming desire to do good to others, she gave away so many of her father's possessions - daily necessities such as milk and flour, but also jewellery and swords - that he eventually let her follow her calling and enter the religious life. In 470, she and seven other nuns founded a convent in Kildare which developed into a centre of learning and spirituality, famed for its illuminated manuscripts such as the Book of Kildare.

St Bride's cross

The St Bride's Cross was reputed to have been made by Bride from rushes to convert a dying man, and is traditionally seen in houses across Ireland to this day. Recently, in friendship with our new neighbours at the Irish Club in Tudor Street, a St Bride's Cross was blessed and unveiled over the entrance door.

According to legend, when Bride received her blessing as abbess it was inadvertently read to her as the rite of consecration as a bishop, which could not then be rescinded. Thus Bride and her successor abbesses had authority equal to that of a bishop for the following seven centuries.

She was renowned throughout Christian Europe for her holiness and common sense, and was regarded as a saint during her lifetime. Ironically, in view of the part that flames were later to play in the story of the church, she shared her name with the pagan goddess of fire, who had been noted for her music, her craftsmanship and her poetry - all qualities that have been manifested in and around St Bride's over numerous generations.

A line from a poem attributed to her - "I long for a great lake of ale" - was also an ironic harbinger of one of the Fleet Street's preoccupations in later years.

She died on 1st February 525 and was buried with the remains of Ireland's two other patron saints - Patrick and Columba. This date continues to be celebrated as the Feast of St Bride.