Southwark Cathedral in London
The formal name of Southwark Cathedral is the Cathedral and Collegiate Church of St. Saviour and St. Mary Overie (over the river). A long name, perhaps, but the church has a long and impressive history to go with it. Southwark Cathedral is the oldest Gothic building in London.
The main structure of the current church was built between 1220 and 1420, although a church has been located on the site for over 1,000 years. Archaeological excavations have uncovered an even earlier history, showing that the site was once the location of a Roman villa. Roman paving stones can be found in the choir aisles. A dig in 1977 discovered a well beneath the choir and unearthed a 4th Century statue that depicts a Roman hunter god.
The cathedral houses many memorials and tombs. Not surprisingly, given its close proximity to many of the playhouses that were located in Southwark, several prominent actors and writers were buried or memorialized in the church. Will Kemp, an actor who played many of Shakespear’s fools at the Globe Theatre, Elizabethan playwright Philip Massinger, and John Fletcher, who may have collaborated with Shakespeare on “Two Noble Kinsmen” and “Henry VIII,” are buried here. William Shakespeare’s brother Edmund, an actor at the Globe, is also buried here, although his grave site is not known.
The playwright himself is honored with a window depicting many of his plays’ characters. The window and a statue of the Bard are located in the nave’s south aisle. Another unknown grave belongs to Mahomet Weyonomon, a chief of the Mohegan tribe in what is now Connecticut. He had come to London to meet with King George II to ask for protection for Mohegan tribal land from encroaching English settlers. Mahomet died of smallpox in London in 1736 before he could meet with the King. A 2006 ceremony attended by Queen Elizabeth II, the U.S. Ambassador, and Mohegan tribal leaders dedicated memorial to Mahomet. The memorial stone is of pink granite that was mined from Mohegan tribal land.
Harvard University alumni might feel a special connection to Southwark Cathedral, as the church includes Harvard Chapel. John Harvard was baptized in this church in 1607 and grew up in Southwark.
The 30-year-old clergyman immigrated to America in 1637, where he served as a minister in a New England church. When he died the following year, his library and small estate were left to New College in Cambridge, Massachusetts, an institution that would be renamed in his honor.
Like many British churches, Southwark Cathedral has a tradition of fine choral music; it sponsors both a boys and girls choir. The building’s acoustics do not disappoint during evensong services or during concerts that are performed regularly in the church. The Southwark Cathedral website posts a calendar of such events.
by Katie Calvert
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