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|2343: St Olave's,
Hart Street, London
© Lonpicman and used under license
Worshipper: Irish Rover.
Olave's, Hart Street, London.
of England, Diocese
A beautiful little church with parts dating back to medieval
times. St Olave's is one of the smallest churches in the City
of London, and one of the few surviving mediaeval buildings.
Originally dating from the 13th century, it was built on the
apparent site of King Ethelred the Unready and King Olaf II
of Norway's battle against the Danes in 1014. St Olave's was
severely damaged in the bombing of World War II, but enough
of the fabric and original masonry was spared to permit restoration.
It was rededicated in 1954, with King Haakon of Norway (who
had worshipped there during his exile) returning to preside
over the ceremony. The Perpendicular Gothic exterior is somewhat
squat in appearance. An arch over the churchyard entrance is
decorated with grinning skulls; noting this, Charles Dickens
called the church "St Ghastly Grim". The
interior is mostly post-World War II, with some notable artifacts
that managed to survive the blitz. Samuel Pepys was fond of
St Olave's, and his earthly remains, along with those of his
wife, rest in the crypt.
The church community is vibrant and purposeful. Their website
outlines a range of activities that are to take place in the
church in addition to regular Sunday services. These include
historical talks and cultural events such as music recitals.
There is an Alpha course advertised for those who want to "explore
the meaning of life" and a service coming up that includes
a Caribbean and Asian supper with wine.
The church is tucked away in the City of London and is a short
walk from some major tourist sites of historical interest. The
Tower of London is just around the corner, and Tower Bridge
spans the Thames a little further along. Next door on one side
is the excellent Apex Hotel. Other large hotels lie in the adjoining
streets. There appears to be very little residential accommodation
nearby apart from the rector’s flat, making me wonder where
the congregation came from.
The Revd Oliver Ross, rector, led the service.
The date & time:
Transfiguration Sunday, 19 February 2012, 11.00am.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
There must have been between 40 and 50 in the congregation,
which from above will have looked like a generous sprinkling.
Did anyone welcome you
A lady in a pew under the organ said hello before we took our
seats. The rector came bounding out of a laughter-filled room
below the organ, perhaps the vestry, to check things up at the
front before the service began. On his return journey to the
vestry, he noted our presence, stopped, introduced himself,
shook our hands warmly, making us feel very welcome indeed.
Was your pew comfortable?
My ischial tuberosities, or sitz bones, rested on the firm wooden
pew. Rather nice kneelers hung on the back of the pew in front,
but there was no cushion on the pew. Even so, I was comfortable
How would you describe
the pre-service atmosphere?
People chatted quietly or sat peacefully. The large church windows
with stained glass allowed the sunlight to stream in, creating
a bright, friendly, and positive atmosphere. Laughter drifting
out from the vestry made me feel relaxed and expectant.
What were the exact opening words of the
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the
What books did the congregation use during the
Common Worship was the only book in use. We sang hymns
What musical instruments
A grand big organ, seemingly occupying the entire back wall
of the church. It replaces the organ that was destroyed during
the blitz and is an opus of the John Compton Organ Company,
known for their theatre organs in venues throughout the UK.
Did anything distract
I noted the hymn books had been donated by the Worshipful Company
of Environmental Cleaners and wondered why that might be. There
was plenty to look at and my eye drifted from time to time to
large commemorative plaques on the walls, but they were just
too far away from me to read. Under the vicar's surplice I occasionally
caught sight of what may have been fraying at the end of his
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
Much to my surprise we had a robed choir of four. The service
was traditional: hymns sung heartily and some pieces performed
beautifully by the nicely turned out choir.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 This was a small gathering in a small church, so the
preacher was not far away. The rector's delivery was very smooth,
engaging, and comfortable. I felt that had I looked quizzical
enough at any point, he would have paused to ask me if I was
In a nutshell, what was
the sermon about?
This is the Sunday in the church calendar when we are encouraged
to recall the Transfiguration of Christ. We can be transported
by experiences music, scenery, etc. to different
appreciations of reality. Jesus was following in a long tradition
that included Moses and Elijah. We should pray for such experiences.
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
I was hugely impressed by the rector. He held our hands, metaphorically,
throughout the service, pointing at the service sheet when it
was to be used, explaining things carefully, and generally making
the man in the pew feel valued. A tiny old lady read the gospel,
and when she walked to the front she was prayed for by name.
Various similar actions by the vicar demonstrated how much value
was attached to the individual. I felt important.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
At the end of the service, several people wandered in to check
out this historic building. I was really delighted that this
was so much more than a fossilized relic of a church. The verger
took the curious visitors down into the crypt and I tagged along.
It was a bit eerie down there. Besides a wall behind which bodies
lie, there is a fenced off area where a human fingernail sticks
out from the earth. We really did descend to the dead!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We chatted with a lady in the pew behind, who said she had travelled
one hour to get there. The rector was eager to chat some more
and we mingled in the coffee area. When I emerged from the crypt,
I stood around for a while feeling a bit lonely before taking
How would you describe the after-service
The coffee was very fine: freshly brewed and served in a proper
cup along with a chocolate digestive. This was quality catering.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 I was excited by the concept of this place. They creatively
make efforts to engage outsiders in a variety of ways. St Olave's
is a shining beacon in a busy commercial part of the city, proclaiming
Jesus as highly relevant to 21st century London.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Thrilled. It was a real shot in the spiritual arm. As I emerged back out into the hurly burly of London I had regained some perspective.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The little old lady who read the gospel really well and was so meaningful affirmed.
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