St Mary le Bow

Discover the famous church or Bow Bells and see the majestic architecture of Sir Christopher Wren, an oasis of peace in the midst of the city.

About this church

St Mary le Bow was built around 1080 by Lanfranc who accompanied William the Conqueror to become his Archbishop of Canterbury. St Mary le Bow was part of a building project which encompassed St Paul’s and the Tower as a way of indicating that the Normans were here to stay. St Mary le Bow was the Archbishop’s London headquarters and the ‘le Bow’ designates the distinctive Norman arches which were such a prominent part of the new architectural style and which can still be seen in the undercroft or crypt.

In the middle ages St Mary le Bow was famous as the home of the single ‘curfew’ bell which rung from the site in the middle of London’s central street, Cheapside, to indicate the end of the working day. This ringing was picked up at the gates and the City closed for the night. So if you could hear Bow bell you must be a Londoner or ‘cockney’.

The church was destroyed in the Great Fire and rebuilt in restrained baroque by Christopher Wren. The tower (now with twelve bells, the Bow bells) was Wren’s most ambitious and expensive project after St Paul’s and at the time not wholly appreciated.

The bells came crashing down in 1941 when the church was destroyed by enemy action. The church was rebuilt in 1960-4 by Lawrence King and the bells were restored in 1961, at which time they were inaugurated by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh. The architecture is still Wren’s but the atmosphere and fittings are more modern and liturgical giving a light and open aspect befitting a place of debate, exchange and dialogue.

Key Features

  • Captivating architecture
  • Spectacular stained glass
  • Glorious furnishings
  • Enchanting atmosphere
  • Fascinating churchyard
  • Social heritage stories
  • National heritage here

Visitors information

  • Bus stop within 100m
  • Level access to the main areas
  • Car park at church
  • Accessible toilets in church
  • Café in church

Other nearby churches

St Mary

This is thought to be the oldest church in the City dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

St James Garlickhythe

The stretch of river close by St James was London's most important hythe, landing place, since Saxon times, with garlic, a vital preservative and medicine was unloaded here and traded on Garlick Hill, where the church stands.

St Stephen Walbrook

Nothing prepares you, as you climb the 13 steps up to St Stephen for the majestic space within, the dome is Wren's finest and based on his original design for St Paul's.

Become a Friend of the National Churches Trust, for people who love church buildings!