I visited two churches that were part of the Reformation. The first, St. Sepulchre-without-Newgate is an Anglican church built in 1450 but largely destroyed in a fire in 1666, so it was rebuilt in 1670 and remodeled in both 1875 and 1932. It is still amazing to me that so many things here are older than my country! Today it is the largest parish in London. There were so many things to see in this church that it seemed more like a museum than a church. There is the grave of Captain John Smith next to the altar, an elaborate organ on the other side of the altar, a musicians chapel, execution bell (a reminder of feuds between Anglicans and Catholics), British flags, as well as stained glass windows with ships and figures such as Shakespeare and John Smith. The main difference that resonated with me is that there were chairs rather than pews, which are there to simplify and break away from the Catholic tradition. It also struck me as very odd to have British flags, because my country has no national religion as England does. In the United States, it seems like people have formed many new churches because they are constantly trying to find a faith that encapsulates everything that they believe. Here, it seems like people are either Catholic of Anglican. It is interesting that the United States was built on the principle of freedom of religion with no national religion and it seems it is more of a religious country than England. Another interesting tidbit is that Tony Blair converted to Catholicism after he stepped down from Prime Minister because it would appear weak to convert to a religion that is not the country’s official religion as that country’s leader.
The second church I visited was St. Etheldreda. It is sandwiched between two office buildings and largely redecorated in the Victorian era though it was built in 1250. This church is mentioned in Shakespeare’s Richard II and III. The upper part of the church as a chapel that is very dark but has beautiful stained glass windows that illuminate the area and rows of pews. It reminds me of the Catholic churches that I grew up in. Underneath is a crypt with the original Stations of the Cross embedded in the walls. Interestingly during the reformation, Queen Elizabeth still allowed Catholic services as long as they kept quiet and didn’t cause any uprisings, respecting that The Church of England was the official religion. Supposedly one of the bishops used the crypt as a tavern when he was in charge, something I am sure the Catholic Church would never have allowed had they truly been in charge. This visit made me appreciate my religious freedom and made me realize how much my religion has been persecuted. I realize, however, it is two sided. Queen Mary persecuted Anglicans (hence receiving the title Bloody Mary) as much as other rulers persecuted Catholics.
Originally Published 2/18/08