Greenwich Panoramic

St Alfege Church
London
Greenwich Church Street
London SE10 9BQ
TfL Fare Zone 2
 
 
 
For over 1,000 years the site of this church has been sacred. It was here that Archbishop Alphege (alternate spelling) of Canterbury was murdered by the Vikings on 19 April 1012. He was bludgeoned to death and then a miracle is said to have occurred. A Danish wooden oar dipped in his blood sprouted into a tree.
 
Alphege’s body was taken first to St Paul's Cathedral and then 11 years later moved to Canterbury Cathedral in Kent where it was interred beneath the North side of the High Altar. Visitors to Canterbury will see a memorial slab marking the site where his tomb was located.
 
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In 1078 Alphege was made a saint and St Anselm said of him “He who dies for Justice dies for God”. Visitors to St Alfege Church, Greenwich will see these words carved on a slab in front of the Sanctuary marking the very spot were St Alphege was martyred.
 
King Henry VIII & Thomas Tallis
Since 1317 the church has had royal patronage and connections with many historical and famous figures. King Henry VIII was baptised here in 1491. Many prominent members of the royal households were buried in the vaults underneath the church. Thomas Tallis, the famous 16th century composer, is buried beneath the chancel.
 
All these burials had a disastrous effect on the foundations of the church and in 1710 its roof collapsed in a severe winter storm. The 13th century tower survived untouched. Queen Anne and the Parliament provided funds for the restoration of the church and Nicholas Hawksmoor (a pupil of Sir Christopher Wren) appointed to design the new church.
 
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The interior of St Alfege is an excellent example of Hawksmoor’s ideas on the importance of proportion in design. The galleries effectively divide the church and create aisles, giving it the appearance of being larger than it really is. Grinling Gibbons carved much of the church’s wooden furnishings and Sir James Thornhill painted the pilasters and apse.
 
The church was built between 1712 and 1714 but consecration was delayed 4 years due to an argument between the Church Commissioners and the parishioners. The Commissioners had directed that a “seat of distinction” should be provided for the use of the Royal Family; the parishioners disagreed. The Commissioners withheld funds and the parishioners saw the error of their ways. The royal pew was installed in the West gallery and the consecration went ahead. For economic reasons the medieval tower was left and encased in an 18th century outer skin to match Hawksmoor’s design.
 
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General Gordon & General James Wolfe
The church continued to be associated with celebrated personalities. The first Astronomer Royal. John Flamsteed was a member of the congregation, General Gordon of India was baptized here and General James Wolfe, victor over the French in Quebec, Canada, is buried here.
 
Blitz Damage
As in so many parts of London, the bombs of World War II caught St Alfege church. On the night of 19 March 1941, the roof was destroyed by incendiary devices. Burning timbers and molten lead collapsed into the nave. Fortunately the walls and tower were not damaged and in 1953 the church was restored to its former glory.
 
Much of the fabric of the church was retrieved and pieced together and skilled restorers have been able to replace what was lost. A lot of the beautiful oak woodwork was saved and Grinling Gibbons’ carving in the chancel has been preserved.
 
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The Coat of Arms from the infamous Royal Pew is copied from fragments left and the original supporters of the Arms are now displayed on either side of the West arch. Hawksmoor’s original oval ceiling was suspended from tie-beams without additional support from the floor. This method of 18th century construction has been faithfully reproduced and can be seen virtually nowhere else.
 
Remarkably, most of Sir James Thornhill’s paintings on the walls survived, and those that were destroyed have been beautifully recreated. The wrought-iron altar rails and north and south gallery railings are original.
 
The Benefaction Boards on the east wall detail the post Reformation history of the church and are full of fascinating entries. Several refer to the establishment of charitable foundations still operating today. One of the most interesting in 1694 is the foundation of the Royal Naval Hospital by King William III and Queen Mary II.
 
Opening Hours
Monday – Friday:   11:00-16:00 hours
Saturday:              10:00-16:00 hours
Sunday:                12:00-16:00 hours
 
Hand-held boards with a history of the Church in 17 languages are available, and information panels situated around the church explain the stories of famous people. There is a small shop area which sells guide books, postcards, CDs and books.
 
Services
Details are available at Web:  St Alfege Church/ Worship
Visitors are welcome to come in quietly during Sunday services. Please go to Web:  St Alfege/ Visitor Information
 
Disabled Access
Accessible, however entry ramp at the South Door is steep. For further information, go to St Alfege Church website, link below.
 
Contact & Further Information
 
Getting There
 
- Docklands Light Railway
Cutty Sark Station
 
Google Maps - St Alfege Church