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New Stained
Glass Windows
by Father Swain


Theology of Music
by Father Swain


First Time Visitors
a short Q&A


old church
Historical Timeline
of the church since its founding


Past Clergy
from 1866 - present


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Our Sister Parish

relicslondon bridge

The Diocese of New York and the Diocese of London have entered into a special relationship recently. Our cathedrals of St Paul and St John the Divine have been twinned, and a number of parishes in both cities have sought out sister parishes to make the link between the dioceses a personal reality. Our own parish has recently concluded such an arrangement with the Church of St Magnus the Martyr, London Bridge in the City of London. You can learn more about the parish's current activities at: and see additional pictures.


This is a small piece about the church, which they have given us.

There are a number of saints named Magnus in the various Calendars of Saints. They all appear to have been martyred but their faith but little, if anything, is known about most of them. Who was the St. Magnus that gave his name to our church? With an early reference to both the saint and the church near the riverside in London it is quite obvious that it could not have been Magnus of Orkney, who did not die until 1116, some forty years or more after the 'first mention' of the church, and was not canonised (made a saint) until 1135. John Stow, writing in the 16th century, says that the patron of the parish was St. Magnus, Bishop of Caesarea. Magnus of Orkney is now the accepted patron of the parish. His story is told in the 'Orkneyinga Saga'.


Towards the end of the 11th century the Orkney Isles were jointly ruled over by three cousins - Haakon, Paulson Erling and Magnus Erlingsson. On his way to raid Ireland, the Isle of Man and Wales, King Magnus the Barefoot of Norway collected the three young men to assist him in his battles. During the Battle of the Menai Strait, Erling was killed leaving Haakon and (our) Magnus to rule jointly over Orkney. Magnus, a peace-loving man, refused to lift a sword, preferring to stand to one side and to chant psalms from the Old Testament. Such action did not endear him to the Viking king. As a result he hurriedly left the battle and sought sanctuary in Scotland. When King Magnus died Haakon was proclaimed Earl of Orkney and Magnus left Scotland and returned to Orkney.


For the next few years Haakon and Magnus ruled together uneasily. Magnus decided to pay a visit to Henry I in England. On his return he was confronted with Haakon's determination that their joint rule must end with himself the sole ruler of the island. A conference was arranged to discuss their problems and to sort out solutions. It was accepted that each man would attend the conference on the Island of Egilsay with only two ships and their crews. Magnus arrived at the rendezvous with the correct number of ships and men, but Haakon had other ideas. He brought with him eight ships fully manned. Magnus realised that the only obvious result of such a conference was his demise and retired to the little church on the island to pray and to seek sanctuary - the Saga reads 'not for fear's sake but to commit to God his case'. Haakon's men stormed the church but first could not find Magnus.


Later they found him hiding. After much discussion between the two cousins, all to no avail, Haakon's followers demanded the death of Magnus. Haakon's cook, Lifolf, was called to behead him. The Saga reads 'he signed himself with the cross and bowed himself for the stroke and his spirit passed into heaven'. Strictly Magnus was not a martyr, one who has died for his faith, but his tomb in the Cathedral of Kirkwall attracted many pilgrims to it, and soon miracles were being claimed.


After his canonisation in 1135, the 16th April became his feast day. "O Magnus of my love, thou it is who would guide us; thou fragrant body of grace, remember us, though saint of power, who didst encompass and protect the people ... Lift our flocks to the hills, quell the fox, ward from us spectre, giant, fury and oppression."  (From an ancient prayer to St. Magnus.) HistoryRichard Newcourt's Repertorium records the first church built here was dedicated to St. Magnus. Was this Magnus who suffered martyrdom in A.D.276 at the time of Alexander, Governor of Caesarea?


Early records show the title as being 'Ecclesia St. Magni Civitatis London juxta pedem, vel as pedem Ponti London' - viz 'The Church of St. Magnus at the foot of London Bridge'. It is recorded in a confirmation of a grant made by William the Conqueror to Westminster Abbey in 1067. A church, made of stone, was standing here at the time of the grant. It was pulled down and a new larger one built in 1234 on a new plot of land.


Its position, near the bridge, played an important part in the life of the church of the City. London Bridge with its twenty arches stretching across the river from the north to the south bank and forming a barrier through which the larger ships could not pass. Ships wishing to unload their goods into the City of London did so along the bankside from the Tower of London to the bridge. By a decree of Pope Innocent IV in 1250 a bishop visiting his diocese was permitted to summon his clergy to one place for a general meeting. From the 15th to the 17th century the chosen church was St. Magnus, probably because of its proximity to the river. While in the 14th century the Fraternity of Our Lady de Salve Regina was established here.


In the late 15th century the priests and clerks of the City were called to order for dallying in taverns and fishing at the 'tyme of dyvyne services' instead of paying attention to their services. Mediaeval records show that in the 14th century the Pope was the Patron of the Living and appointed five rectors to the parish. In Pre-Reformation days the parish took part with St. Peter's Cornhill and St. Nicholas Cole Abbey in a joint procession on the Feast of Corpus Christi.


This event was often marred by the squabbling between the parishes as to who should lead the procession, the question of precedence being finally settled by the Bishop of London. He decided that St. Peter's Cornhill could, justifiably, claim to be the oldest Christian church site in the Citv of London having been founded in the latter half of the 2nd century. After the Reformation, patronage alternated between the Abbey of Bermondsey and the Abbot and Convent of Westminster. In the 16th century patronage passed to the Bishop of London Edmund Grindall, who appointed Miles Coverdale to the parish in 1563. At which time the churchwardens were ordered to break, or cause to be broken in two parts, all the altar stones in the church.


The medieval church was repaired in the early 17th century and completely rebuilt after the Great Fire of London in 1666 by Christopher Wren. One of the Tables of Benefactions in the lobby at the West end of the church records the close escape the church had in 1640 during the 'late terrible Fire on London Bridge'. The Table also records the provision for a sermon to be preached on every twelfth day of February to commemorate its preservation. Strype in his revision of John Stow's Survay (sic) down to 1720 writes: 'On the east side near the Bridge is St. Magnus' Church, seated in the Corner, going into Thames Street. It was destroyed by the Fire of London, since which it is rebuilt with Freestone and a Tower Steeple, all of a curious workmanship to which Church is united the Parish of St. Margaret New Fish Street, that church not being rebuilt.'


In the great holocaust of 1666 the church was the second one to perish, the first being St. Margaret, New Fish Street. Today's church although much altered internally was the work of Wren. In the Bodleian Library, Oxford, are 'The Bills of the Parochial Churches', and 'The Ledger of the Parochial Churches' being the manuscripts of Wren's accounts for the rebuilding of the churches of the City of London after the Great Fire of 1666. The accounts for the rebuilding of St. Magnus show that it cost £9,580.


In the following century, a 'dreadful fire suddenly broke out with great violence about ten o'clock in the morning of 18th April 1760 at an OYL (sic) shop adjoining the church, which instantly consumed the vestry room, most part of the roof of the Church, greatly injured the ORGAN, and did very considerable damage to the fabric.'


Under an Act of Parliament dated June 1756, permission was obtained to demolish all the shops and houses on London Bridge. This was to allow for the widening of the bridge facilitating a speedier flow of the traffic going across. Both the Act and the subsequent action did not please those people who lived and worked on the bridge! A reward was offered to anyone who could solve the mystery of the starting of the fire. A reward of two hundred pounds was offered but never awarded. All this in spite of the fact that a certain Mrs. John Dennys made a sworn statement that she had seen, from her bedroom window, three lanterns moving about near the chapel pier. Shortly afterwards the chapel was ablaze. When the bridge was rebuilt a constant guard was kept upon it, with a patrol walking up and down a wooden gallery built just below the line of the roadway.


churchAfter the fire the church was fully restored, the organ reinstated and a new vestry room rebuilt at the North-West end at the sole expense of the united parish of St. Magnus the Martyr and St. Margaret, New Fish Street for the cost of upwards of £1,200. In 1762 the City Corporation placed before Parliament that they had not only repaired the bridge but also allowed for it to be widened. This latter condition affected the west end of St. Magnus' Church. Previously the end of the church building, with its vestry room, had been on the edge of the roadway at the north end of the bridge. Now, the widened bridge's footpath was designed to go through the tower of the church.


When the surveyor examined the church it was discovered that Wren had filled in the two side arches of the tower. It almost seemed as if he had anticipated the building of a new bridge that would be wider than the medieval one. These arches were duly opened, the vestry room demolished, with an overall effect of shortening the length of the church. A new vestry house was built on the South-West side of the church. In 1782 in an attempt to reduce the noise of the many iron-rimmed carts working in nearby Billingsgate, the windows in the North wall were altered to their present round form. In 1924-1925 Martin Travers restored the interior when the 'unsightly changes' made in the early 19th century were removed. The box pews were replaced by those currently in use and the three-decker pulpit with its 'rectory pew' dismantled revealing the elegant pulpit of Wren.


altarThis pulpit was so greatly admired that two copies were made, one of which was, until the Blitz of 1940-1941, in the Parish Church of St. Lawrence Jewry. Lovely shrines of Our Lady of Walsingham and Christ the King were added. After World War II, 1939-1945, new stained glass windows were commissioned and placed in the church, by Laurence King.


(Ed. Note. Since the incumbency of Father Henry Joy Fynes-Clinton from 1921 to 1959, St Magnus has been a stronghold of the full Catholic Faith and has been a church dear to the hearts of practising Catholics in the Church of England, much as our own church has been in the forefront of the Catholic Movement in the Episcopal Church since 1920. Also, like our own church, St Magnus has been through a period of very small congregations indeed (often as few as five or six) and is now undergoing a period of growth and revival under its new parish priest, Father Philip Warner SSC. The literary among you will recall that St Magnus is mentioned by T. S. Eliot in his poem The Waste Land.)