City of London

Blackfriars/St. Anne's, City of London

Dominican Friars

Probably the most famous of all vanished Abbeys is that at Blackfriars in the heart of the City of London. It began life as a Dominican Friary around 1276 and became the largest Monastic House in London. The Dominican habit gave rise to their English nickname of “Black Friars” and the name stuck for this region of the City.

In 1529 it was at Blackfriars that the divorce hearing of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon took place. Ironic, then, that this divorce itself would lead to the eventual Dissolution of all England’s Monasteries – Blackfriars included.

After the Dominicans were kicked out part of the buildings was sold to the Blackfriars Theatre which was for a long time the premier theatre in London and was eventually bought by the Kings’ Men who numbered amongst them one William Shakespeare.

The theatre, although it opened and closed several times, operated until the Republic when Cromwell, ever a misery, closed all the theatres. In 1632 another part of the old Monastery was sold to the Society of Apothecaries and although that original building is lost, the Society is still headquartered here.

In 1597 a new church was consecrated here, right next to the theatre much to the chagrin of the churchgoers. This was St. Ann’s Church and it made use of the remaining Monastery ruins. St. Ann’s became a centre for Puritanism and became associated with William Gouge, the puritan minister who, despite his frugal teachings, still managed to sire 13 children of his own.

All of these remains were swept away on 4th September 1666 when the Great Fire of London decimated Blackfriars. Only one tiny row of houses survived in the area.

St. Ann’s Church was never rebuilt and had survived a mere 69 years. Today only a few scant walls and remains of the churchyard are left to mark the site of three of London’s great medieval institutions – the Monastery, the Church and the Theatre.

Photo - Andrew J. Müller

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