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.