Thursday February 9 2017
Yes Southwark cathedral is not strictly a museum but a place of worship. However as it has guide books, shops and a café, and enough things to look at and note, for today it shall count as a museum, and it certainly took up more of our time than the Golden Hinde from where we had come to warm ourselves up.
Compared to Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s this is little visited and so apart from the vergers, we had it to ourselves. The first experience that delighted us was underfoot – next to the Cathedral there is a Millennium annexe housing the ‘facilities’ including toilets and meeting rooms joined by a covered corridor (officially titled Lancelot’s Link) paved with slabs – one for each parish church in the significantly large diocese of Southwark – it stretches from Thames Ditton to Thamesmead and right down to Gatwick; the northern edge being the Thames of course.
The cathedral traces its origins back to pre-Norman times when it was probably a convent later replaced by a monastic foundation linked to the Bishop of Winchester (the remains of whose palace can be seen along Clink Street). And yes, the monks started a hospital nearby too – St Thomas’s. The church was called St Mary Overie (over the river) and later St Saviour’s after the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The proximity to London Bridge, for long enough the only river crossing, gave the church added prominence. The local population lacked the wealth and status of those north of the river and the church, eventually raised to cathedral status as late as 1905, reflected this ‘social divide’.
The first ‘exhibit’ is displayed along the passageway and shows the different finds discovered during works under the current building – these are mainly from the Roman era where this part of London would have been on the main route to and from the coast, but also include the early foundations of the first buildings.
Our interior photos are poor but for the tourist rather than the worshipper the main sights are the memorials – like all great churches there are tombs for local worthies or previous church dignitaries and we have always enjoyed the Tudor habit of depicting the family along the front of the sarcophagus. There are also side chapels (in Catholic Cathedrals usually dedicated to Mary and other important saints) of which the most interesting is dedicated to John Harvard, who was baptized here and emigrated after completing his education in England.
He is generally seen as the founder of Harvard University though in fact it is more likely he bequeathed his substantial library.
An American paid for the Harvard memorial, which includes the rather florid Tabernacle designed by Pugin .
Other smaller chapels are behind the altar (the retro-choir) and are the oldest part of the building, save the foundations.
Most of the windows suffered war-time damage and so there is a range of more modern replacements – the most recent for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012 and others celebrating ‘local heroes’ Shakespeare and Chaucer who would have been familiar with the area and its then places of worship. Chaucer’s pilgrims of course were heading off to Canterbury to commemorate St Thomas a Becket. Shakespeare’s brother was apparently buried in St Saviour’s (as it was till 1905) but the ‘tomb’ and effigy definitely depict William S. with various plays recalled in the window above.
Also comparatively recent is a memorial to the 51 people who died when the Marchioness sunk in the Thames nearby.
The small graveyard and herb garden recall this was once a monastery and still offer a (slightly) quieter place to retreat from the hubbub of Borough Market.
Southwark appears NOT to have a local museum, which is shame as it has a rich heritage, so to some extent visiting the Cathedral compensates for this lack.