City of London

St. Helen's, Bishopsgate, City of London

Benedictine Nuns

This church began its life as a 14th Century convent for Benedictine Nuns. However, this is one of those Nunneries that added to the discontent with the Monastic way of life as the nuns were reported, in 1385, as being “reproved for the number of little dogs kept by the prioress, kidding secular persons and wearing ostentatious veils”. They were also accused of waving over the partition between the Nunnery and the Parish Church during sermons.

This is probably a subtle way of suggesting that the Convent was operating more like a bordello and it was shut down long before the Dissolution was a twinkle in Thomas Cromwell’s beady eye.

Somehow the Church managed to escape the Great Fire and remained very much as it had until 1893 when the Victorians had a late bash at renovating it, with their usual care and attention they stripped out the medieval woodwork and repainted all the colourful paintwork white.

Unfortunately St. Helen’s was at the centre of two IRA bombs in two consecutive years. The first in 1992 exploded almost directly outside and caused extensive damage, the second – the infamous blast of 1993 – caused even more. And so the Church remained without its roof for a number of years. The church finally re-opened in 1996. The interior was remodelled on a Georgian style church with large windows and clean lines. Whilst renovations were being undertaken a 15th Century squint window was found which allowed the nuns to look into the main body of the Church.

This is the "St Helens" in the Oranges and Lemons Rhyme.

Photo - Andrew J. Müller

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