Southwark Cathedral is the oldest Gothic church building in London, with over 1000 years of worship within its walls.
It was a convent in 606, a priory in 1106, a parish church in 1540, and a cathedral from 1905. Famous literary figures such as Shakespeare and Chaucer are associated with the church, and The Becket Way pilgrimage starts here on the way to Canterbury. The area has a rich cultural heritage, so if you’re in London, it’s definitely worth a visit. You can find more detail at cathedral.southwark.anglican.org
Always look up in a Gothic cathedral! Southwark’s vaulted nave is magnificent. When you enter the building, you can pay a few pounds extra for a photo permit. It’s definitely worth it.
South aisle. You can light a candle here in memory of your loved ones.
Looking up to the ceiling of the transept
Looking towards the high altar
The High Altar and Altar Screen behind, erected by Bishop Fox in 1520. It features religious figures such as St Paul, St Augustine, and St Thomas a Becket, as well as previous Bishops of Winchester.
Walk around the back of the choir and you cross old graves
List of Priors of the Augustinian House of St Mary Overie, surrendered to King Henry VIII in 1539, which it became the Parish Church of St Saviour. In 1905, it became the Cathedral Church of the Diocese of Southwark and the Bishops are listed. I think it’s pretty amazing to see names going back to 1106, and once again, reminds us of the brevity of life.
Tomb of Alderman Richard Humble and family, with the altar screen behind.
Shakespeare memorial and window
This area resonates with Shakespeare and the replica of the Globe theatre is just a few minutes walk away along the River Thames. This memorial sits within the South Aisle. The sprig of rosemary in his hand is for remembrance, a reference to Hamlet.
The stained glass window above the memorial contains details of a number of plays. My favorite play is The Tempest, so I particularly like the portrayal of Prospero with Caliban at his feet.
Geoffrey Chaucer stained glass window
Geoffrey Chaucer’s pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales left the Tabard Inn near here on their way to the martyrdom site of St Thomas a Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. I walked the same route in October 2020 and I recommend using the guidebook Walking The Pilgrim’s Way by Leigh Hatts if you want to try it. This stained glass window shows the pilgrims setting off, St Thomas in his archbishop’s finery, and Chaucer at the top (1340-1400).
Medieval cadaver tomb of Thomas Cure
Most tombs have stylized versions of the occupant, but this is a more honest portrayal of the dead. This kind of ‘memento mori’ cadaver tomb is rarely found and it fascinates me. You’ll find it in the North Choir Aisle.
Roof bosses including the Devil devouring Judas
The roof collapsed in 1469 and some of the original bosses remain at the back of the Cathedral. The top right depicts the Devil devouring Judas Iscariot.
In the museum area behind the cathedral, you can look down into a section of the foundations and see the Roman road from 1st century AD, the wall of the 12th-century chapter house, a 13th-century stone coffin, and other aspects of the historical building. There’s a shop and a cafe here as well as temporary exhibitions.
Nearby places to visit
This is one of my favorite areas of London, and while you’re in the area, check out the following:
If you’re a foodie, you’ll love the variety of the market with fresh produce from English suppliers as well as imports from all over the world.
Ruins of Winchester Palace
The 12th-century palace of the Bishop of Winchester was one of the largest and most important buildings in medieval London. These ruins are all that remain and they are just a few meters away from Southwark Cathedral, past the Golden Hinde. Note the rose window.
Sign about the ruins
If you love Modern Art, you can’t miss the Tate Modern.
Walk across the Millennium Bridge in front of the museum to get to St Paul’s Cathedral.
This place marks the darker side of Southwark Cathedral. When the rail services dug up this area, they found an unconsecrated medieval graveyard, full of the bones of the sex workers and their children, licensed by the Bishop of Winchester to work in The Liberty of the Clink, outside the city walls of London. 15,000 dead lie here, forgotten for centuries, but now honored by a garden for the Outcast Dead. More at Crossbones.org.uk
The Globe Theatre
A replica of the original theatre of Shakespeare stands on the bank of the Thames. You can visit for a tour or you can attend a performance. Make sure to book a cushion!
Interested in a crime thriller set in this area of London?
As Southwark is one of my favorite areas of London, I set one of my crime thrillers there. Deviance features the ruins of the Palace of Winchester, Crossbones graveyard, The Shard, the Tate Modern, and other areas.
Who is the sinner and who is the saint?
Jamie Brooke is working as a private investigator in the London Borough of Southwark when the body of a priest is found in the ruins of Winchester Palace, his tattooed arms flayed, his mouth stuffed with feathers.
Jamie begins the hunt for the skin collector with the help of museum researcher, Blake Daniel, who is haunted by visions of a terrifying past.
As violence erupts, leaving a trail of bodies in its wake, Jamie and Blake must find the murderer before those they love are taken down in the chaos.
A psychological thriller with an edge of the supernatural, Deviance is the story of a struggle for power and a fight for freedom against the backdrop of modern-day London.
Available in ebook, paperback, and audiobook editions at your favorite online store and more links at: www.JFPenn.com/book/deviance
Love the pictures and captions. Thanks for sharing.
The photos of the cathedral are breath-taking. Love cathedral architecture! Thank you.
Love the photos of the cathedral. You are so right Jo, about folk not looking up. I find that whole area of Southwark fascinating.