Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Wedding cake spire

St Brides' steeple
Today a visit to St Brides in Ludgate Hill, to see a lady about champagne. This was a pre-concert organisation meeting, aka wine tasting. Rest assured that we have selected only the best for our guests on 19th February.

Ludgate Hill is on Fleet Street, the traditional home of the Fourth Estate - today journalists (or at least, those who haven't moved to Wapping), in the past, printers. The interesting wine bar in St Bride's Passage, known as The Press House, is the venue for our apres-concert dinner. They have adopted as their slogan 'Wine is bottled poetry' (Robert Louis Stevenson) so I am sure we have made an excellent selection. The Maitres D', Stephanie, is lively and fun and advised that morning was always the best time to taste wine - 'ze palette is fresh'.

Above St Bride's Passage soars the magnificent white steeple tower of St Bride's Church . The steeple, designed by Christopher Wren, and his tallest, was apparently the inspiration for the first tiered wedding cakes.This is possibly true, or a story made up by fans of St Brides. Wedding cakes have been around since medieval times, when they were made from wheat, symbolising fertility. They were also thrown at the happy couple. This later  developed into a ritual of breaking the cake over the bride's head. Luckily, and perhaps understandably, that died out. Later, lots of small buns were piled up around the bride and groom, and the game was for them to try to kiss over the top of the pile. Eventually the buns were stuck together with frosting. Commonsense then led on to a proper cake, and the ritual of taking a piece home and sleeping with it under one's pillow (well, that bit isn't common sense). Today, of course, the cake is the only element in the wedding to truly rival the bride in spectacular elegance (if everyone knows what s good for them), and is of course colour co-ordinated with the bridal party .


But back to St Bride's. There have been eight churches on the site since the sixth century. I know you are wondering - who was St Bride? An Irish nun born in 453, shortly after St Patrick, who appears to have had a strange character, since this poem is attributed to her:
I long for a great lake of ale
I long for the meats of belief and pure piety
I long for flails of penance at my house
I long for them to have barrels full of peace

She's buried with St Patrick, and is also known as 'St Bridgit of Kildare'.

The church was destroyed in the Great Fire of September 1666, and Samuel Pepys recorded the day in his famous diary (by the way, here's an interesting site where you can read the famous diary)

September 7. - Up by five o'clock; and blessed be God!, find all well; and by water to Paul's Wharfe. Walked thence, and saw al the towne burned; and a miserable sight of Paul's church, with all the roof fallen, and the body of the quire fallen into St Fayth's; Paul's School also, Ludgate and Fleete-street, my father's house (in Salisbury Court) and the church (St Bride's), and a good part of the Temple the like.

The fire destroyed 87 city churches; 51 were rebuilt, with St Brides being amongst the first. The eminent architect Christopher Wren  was responsible for its design (and that of St Paul's). The famous steeple wasn't built until 1702, and stands 226 feet high, Wren's tallest. 

Sir Christopher Wren

The steeple was extolled in poetry by W E Henley:

The while the fanciful, formal finicking charm
Of Bride's, that madrigal of stone,
Grows flushed and warm
And beauteous with a beauty not its own.

From The Song of the Sword

On 29th December 1940 St Brides suffered direct hits from the Luftwaft in the Blitz. The steeple didn't topple, although the bell in it melted. This is how The Times reported that night:

"The dome of St Paul's seemed to ride the sea of fire like a great ship lifting above the smoke and flames the inviolable ensign of the golden cross." 

The bombing revealed Roman crypts under the church, which had been filled up when they were full of dead from the great Plague of 1665. The crypts are now excavated, with Roman tiling visible.Christopher Wren's design has been restored, and St Brides is a beautiful little church, just right for a Birthday Concert, don't you think?

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