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St Batholomew the Great Parish Church


Founded in 1123 by Rahere, a jester/minstrel in the court of King Henry I (1068 – 1 December 1135), making this one of the oldest churches in London. Originally established as an Augustinian Priory Church, its nave was demolished in 1539 when King Henry VIII ordered the Dissolution of the Monastery’s. Dominican Friars (the Black Friars) were based here during the reign of Queen Mary and it eventually once again became a Parish Church when Queen Elizabeth I took the throne.

Rahere (Raher, Raherius) (died 1143 -1144)
According to tradition Rahere was a favourite courtier of King Henry I who became deeply affected by the death of the King’s wife Matilda (Edith) (daughter of Malcolm II Scotland and St Margaret) and the subsequent death two years later of the heir to the throne Prince William when he drowned in the White Ship disaster of 25 November 1120. These deaths moved Rahere to take a pilgrimage to Rome. Whilst on this pilgrimage he fell severely ill and whilst in a feverish, delirious state he prayed for to God for his salvation. He then had a strange experience and was visited by the apparition of St Bartholomew, some sources say this is while he was ill, others say it was whilst he was dreaming and some that the Saint came to him later on his return trip to England. St Bartholomew tasked Rahere with the construction of a Church and Hospital at Smithfield (which was outside the city walls but still in London). Some say it is this visitation that led to him becoming an Augustinian monk. Rahere did and building was completed he served as Prior at the church and as Master of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital (St Barts). He is buried at St Batholomew’s Church in an ornate tomb on the north side of the altar.

But what is actually known about Rahere? Between 1115 and his death circa 1143 - 1144, Raherius was holder of a prebend at St Pauls Cathedral. A prebendary is a type of Canon with administrative duties who received an income from the estate attached to his prebend, which in the case of Rahere was Chamberlain's Wood. Prebendaries sit in the prebendal stalls during cathedral services which are usually behind the choir stalls. Rahere’s prebendal stall was the sixth on the north side of the choir.

So Rahere was an ecclesiastic and in a position to receive a prebend by 1115, which conflicts with the story of him taking holy orders following a pilgrimage after 1120.

‘The Book of Foundation of St Batholomew’s Church in London’ does confirm his activities at court however. ‘This man, sprung of humble lineage, when he reached the flower of youth began to haunt the household of nobles and the palaces of princes. Sewing pillows upon all elbows, he drew to friendship with himself those whom he had soothed with jokes and flatterings. And, not content with this, he approached the king's palace with some frequency and resorted to the tumults of that tumultuous court and with jocular flattery desired to attract to himself with ease the hearts of many. There he made it his business all day long to attend spectacles, banquets, jests and the rest of the trifles of the court, and, with shameless face betaking himself to the suite -- now of the king, now of the nobles -- he assiduously employed a complaisance that should please them and obtain with greater ease anything that it pleased him to seek. By these means he was well known to, intimate with, and a comrade of the king and of the great men of the court.’

In ‘The Story of Rahere’, Leonard Clark says that following the death of Queen Matilda and then Prince William, “Sudden death and grief challenged Rahere, perhaps for the first time. He realised that there was much more to life than a round of pleasure and merrymaking.”

Accordingg to Memorials of Old London, Volume I, J Tavenor-Perry (One of the authors) mentions that ‘some assume that he was that same Rahere who assisted Hereward (Hereward the Wake) in his stand against the Norman invaders of the Cambridgeshire fens, but if so, this did not prevent him, later on, from attaching himself to the court of the Conqueror's son.’

Interesting Facts:
Benjamin Franklin (17 January 1706 – 17 April 1790), one the United States of America’s founding fathers, worked in St Batholomew’s at a the printing office that had been established in the Lady Chapel. (These seems strange but a series of trades set up in the church over time, including in 1863 a factory for fringe which even spread onto the upper floor). Around the age of 17 or 18, the young Franklin, who had been working in a Philadelphia printing house, came to London on the bequest of the Pennsylvania Governor Sir William Keith to acquire printing equipment. Benjamin ended up as a typesetter at the printing office and returned to America in 1726.

On 29th June 1895 a Masonic Lodge named The Rahere Lodge was consecrated at St Batholomew’s Hospital. Those attending were M.W. Grand Master H.R.H. Albert Edward The Prince of Wales, M.W. Pro Grand Master, Edward Bootle-Wilbraham 1st Earl of Lathom and the Frederick, Crown Prince of Denmark and Grand Master of Danish Freemasons.

TV & Film:
St Batholomew’s has appeared in many television programmes and feature films including: Shakespeare in Love, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Elizabeth The Golden Age, Spooks, The Real Sherlock Holmes and The Other Boleyn Girl.

Haunted?
It is suggested that Rahere is one of the ghosts that reputedly haunt St Batholomew’s. An apparition that is considered to be the Prior is said to have been seen several times by the altar before vanishing. It is also suggested that 1 July may be the best date to witness this. A second male apparition in clothing belonging to the Reformation has been witnessed in the pulpit.

The author Andrew Green had the following to say about St Batholomew’s and another aspect of the haunting. ‘One afternoon in 1977 a visitor from Surrey was intending to record a tape of his visit to the building and proceeded to describe the interior. He was alone and felt slightly self-conscious as he talked to himself into the microphone. At one point he stood for a few minutes in front of the altar, detailing the handsome religious ornaments and surrounding tombs. On playing back the tape, which he was kind enough to let me hear, the clear definite sounds of footsteps can be heard walking, it seems into the church and past the solitary visitor. Sceptics may suggest a fault in the mechanism of the recorder, or acoustical malfunction recording the sound of someone outside the church. Neither I fear are acceptable.’


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Ian Topham
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Re: St Batholomew the Great Parish Church

Bart's and the Royal London Hospitals trust has a "grey lady" at the 264-year-old Royal London Hospital, and tales of the cowled figure of the Rahere, the monk who founded Bart's in 1123, is a regular feature of London "ghost walks". But a spokeswoman for the trust denies there are any ghosts. [Ghosts of sisters past by Mark Gould , The Guardian, Wednesday 22 December 2004]

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Ian Topham
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Re: St Batholomew the Great Parish Church

HAUNTED CHURCHES by ELLIOTT O'DONNELL (1939)
SOME years ago my interest was aroused by an article in the Daily Express relating to ghostly happenings in St. Bartholomew-the-Great. According to this article, the Rector, the Rev. W. Sandwith, stated that one week-day night he saw a strange man in the church, which was in semi- darkness, save for a light in the sacristy and near the vestry. The man was looking down the church, and the light was behind him. The Rector asked him if he could be of any assistance to him, whereupon the man, without replying, walked towards the Lady chapel. Mr. Sandwith followed him, and, when only a few feet away from him, saw him suddenly and inexplicably disappear. Also, according to this article, the Rector, when kneeling by the altar at midday celebration, saw close to him a man's face looking upturned, as if at the cross on the altar. There was something strangely arrestive about the face, the features of which bore a striking resemblance to those of the Duke of Argyll, when Marquis of Lome, and as the Rector stared at it in wonder, it gradually faded away.

But apparently Mr. Sandwith, during his ministry, was not the only person to witness ghostly phenomena in the church, for he is reported to have said that, on one occasion, his wife saw a phantom monk, whose features were partly hidden by a cowl, standing at the altar rails, and several members of the congregation saw weird and ghostly sights in the church, too. It was mainly due to this article that I went, some years later, to St. Bartholomew's in Smithfield and heard from someone, at that time connected with the church, another strange story. He said that once, when he was alone in the church, early in the morning, he saw a luminous white something in the centre aisle. Fascinated by it, he was staring at it, wondering what on earth it could be, when, suddenly, it took the form of a woman in a nightdress, and he realised it was an exact image of his daughter, who had been in Australia for some years. There was joyful recognition in its eyes as they met his, and then, quite as suddenly and mysteriously as it had appeared, it vanished, leaving him greatly upset, for he believed that he had seen the spirit of his daughter, and that she was dead. However, happily for him, he was mistaken. In a letter, which he received subsequently, he was told that she had been dangerously ill, but was now recovering, and later she wrote to him herself, telling him that, when her illness had reached a climax and her life was hanging in the balance, she had had a strange dream. She dreamed she was standing in St. Bartholomew's church, looking at him. She awoke, trembling with the happiness of having seen him, and from that moment started getting better. The dream she had was so vivid and natural that, greatly impressed by it, she made a note of the exact hour and date on which it had occurred. Now, as my informant had likewise noted the exact date and time of his daughter's apparition appearing to him, and had found that both date and time corresponded exactly with the date and time of her dream, I think we might conclude that the case was unquestionably one of Projection.

This same person also told me that, not infrequently, when he was alone in the church, he heard footsteps following him, sometimes in the centre aisle, but more often in the ambulatories.

The church is traditionally said to be haunted by the ghost of the founder, Rayer, or Rahere, who lived in the reign of Henry I and, although jester to His Majesty, was noted for his piety. If there is any truth in the tradition, though goodness, or perhaps badness, alone knows why so religious a man as Rayer was supposed to be should be earth-bound, then the mysterious footsteps, still heard at times in the ambulatories, may reasonably be those of his spirit.

In March 1849, during excavations in Smithfield Market, necessary for the making of a sewer, a number of unhewn stones, blackened as if by fire and covered with many much charred human bones, were discovered several feet below the surface, and in a spot directly fronting the entrance to St. Bartholomew- the- Great. Several oak posts, also charred by fire, with staples and rings attached to them were found too. Since the spot was believed to have been the one where the victims of the Marian persecutions were burned, the significance of the bones and posts was beyond question. The martyrs of those hideous cruelties, which will ever damn the reign of the bigot queen, were roasted to death with their faces turned to the East and to the great gate of the church, where the Prior stood, watching their frightful sufferings and, no doubt, praying piously.

It was after these discoveries that people passing the spot at night, or when alone in certain of the ambulatories, spoke of hearing harrowing, ghostly sounds, such as moans and groans, and occasionally blood-curdling shrieks. These sounds are rumoured still to continue periodically.

I have paid several visits to the church, and on one occasion, I fancied, I saw a shadowy figure slip past me as I was walking along the aisle connecting the two ambulatories and into which the main entrance to the church leads. It was afternoon, in between lights, and the building was full of shadows cast by the waning sun, but this shadow moved, and it was neither mine nor of any of the material objects round me. It suggested a monk but I heard no accompanying footsteps. It went by me noiselessly and with a suggestion of stealth. The same individual who told me about the phantom light in the centre aisle, also told me several people had told him they had seen an indescribably horrible shape gliding along one of the ambulatories. It startled a former curate to such a degree that he fainted and was ill for a long time afterwards.



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