St Mary Abchurch is considered to be one of Sir Christopher Wren and Grinling Gibbons’ finest works.
Records of the church were first found in 1100s. The site is dedicated to the Virgin Mary along with 15 other churches. The determinative ‘Abchurch’ may refer to its position (‘up’ church, although it is not conspicuously higher than any adjacent ground), or the name of an early priest or patron.
The church was burnt down during the Great Fire of London and restored by Wren in 1686. Despite a few minor alterations, and some damage during World War II, the church has changed little over the centuries. The splendid painting within the dome, by parishioner William Snow (fl. 1699-1724), was added in 1708; it depicts the worship of heaven, with the tetragrammaton (the Divine Name in Hebrew characters) in the very centre, The chief glory of the church is a magnificent reredos (altar screen) with swags of fruit and flowers by the master carver Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721), the only authenticated work by his hand in the parish churches of the City.
Under the City of London Guild Churches Act of 1952, St Mary’s ceased to be a parish church, and its territorial parish was joined to that of nearby St Stephen Walbrook. As a guild church, St Mary Abchurch now holds its weekly Church of England service at lunchtime on Wednesdays, and welcomes a guest congregation on Sundays – currently, a monthly service by the Chaplaincy to Russian Speakers in the Diocese of London.
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