St Martin-in-the-Fields – One of London’s Liveliest and Best-Loved Churches:
In the northeast corner of Trafalgar Square is St Martin-in-the-Fields, one of London’s liveliest and best-loved churches and arts venues. St Martin-in-the-Fields is also one of London’s most famous non-cathedral churches.
There has been a church on this Trafalgar Square site since the 13th century. Henry VIII built a new church here in 1542 and he extended the parish boundaries to keep plague victims from being carried through his palace. The new church was in a isolated position and at that time it was literally “in the fields”. Henry’s church was pulled down in 1721 and the current church was built between 1721-26.
James Gibbs was the architect who designed St Martin-in-the-Fields in 1721. Although his design was criticized at the time, it subsequently became one of the most significant ecclesiastical buildings in the English-speaking world. Gibbs’ church design has been copied across North America and throughout the world.
Patron Saint of St Martin-in-the-Fields
St Martin of Tours is the patron saint of this church. El Greco’s most popular depiction of St. Martin as a soldier dividing his cloak to clothe a beggar gives a little insight of the qualities of this saint.
During World War I, Dick Sheppard, then Vicar of St Martin, followed the example of St Martin when he gave refuge to soldiers on their way to France. He saw St Martin’s as ‘the church of the ever open door’. The doors have remained open ever since.
St. Martin’s today is a very active and innovative church that responds to the changing needs of society. It provided London’s first free lending library and St Martin’s was the first to embark on religious broadcasts. Foremost in the Church’s activities is caring for the homeless, about 7,500 each year.
Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields
St. Martin-in-the-Fields enjoys one of the finest musical reputations in the world of churches. The church has played host to grand masters like Handel and Mozart and its chamber ensemble, the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields, is world famous. St. Martin’s has a busy concert schedule and music lovers can attend free lunchtime concerts or the many other concerts that take place here (see what’s on).
To discover the hidden secrets of the church visitors can hire audio guides and explore, not only the church and crypt, but also go behind the scenes into the vaults and the Royal Box where the Hanoverian kings worshiped.
Café Hidden in the Crypt
After your church visit, make sure to allow time for a coffee break or meal at the Café in the Crypt. The self-service Café in the atmospheric 18th century crypt of St Martin-in-the-Fields offers a wide and tasty variety of good-value, freshly-made hot and cold meals, snacks and drinks. The profits from the Café go towards supporting the work of St. Martin’s.
Next to the Crypt Café is the London Brass Rubbing Centre where children can have fun creating artwork from a selection of replica brasses. These can be taken home as another souvenir of your London visit.
St Martin-in-the-Fields is easily accessible by the Tube (Charing Cross station).
St Martin-in-the-Fields Church
London WC2N 4JJ