The History and Antiquities of London, Westminster, Southwark, and Parts Adjacent, vol. 3
St. Mary Abchurch.
This church is of ancient foundation, and is supposed to derive its additional name from being situated on high ground, as it is found written Apchurch and Upchurch. The patronage was originally in the prior and canons of St. Mary Overies, , who, in , exchanged it with the master and chaplains of Corpus Christi college, Laurence Poulteney hill, for a house in the parish of Allhallows-the-less. On the dissolution of that house it fell to the crown. Queen Elizabeth, in the of her reign, , gave it to the college of Corpus Christi, Cambridge; in whom the advowson still remains.
The church is situated on the west side of ; the south front abuts on a paved court, which is still used as a burying ground; the west front and tower on a passage leading into Sherbourn lane. It is a spacious rectangular building of brick covered with stucco, with stone dressings; the elevations of the building are nearly uniform. In the centre of the southern front is a large segment arched window, with a a shield upon the key-stone; on each side is a semicircular arched window, with another of a circular form above it, the key stones of the lateral windows have cherubs. Below the westernmost is an arched entrance surmounted with a cornice resting on consoles. The east front only differs in having the centre window walled up. The north elevation is built against, and has consequently no windows. The western front corresponds, except in regard of the tower. The angles are rusticated, and the walls are finished with a coping. The roof is slated and rises in a dome, square in plan, and pierced with circular windows, having a platform on the summit. The tower is situated within the walls at the north west angle of the church, and in this respect varies the western elevation; it is built with brick and covered with compo; the angles are rusticated, and the elevation is made by plain courses into stories; in the basement of the west front is an arched entrance similar to the already described; the next story has an arched window, the key stone carved with a cherub; the has a circular, and the an arched window, with a grotesque mask on the key stone; the latter is also repeated on the other sides of the tower; the elevation finishes with a cornice and parapet; the door and window cases, and other dressings, are stone: above the parapet rises a leaded dome, pierced with port holes; on its summit is a square story, formed by open arches which sustain an obelisk of the same form, covered with lead: the whole is finished with a ball and cross surmounted by a vane.
The interior of this church is strikingly grand, and with the exception of the Roman in , is perhaps the most highly decorated ecclesiastical edifice in London. The plan is square, lengthened by divisions at the west end: the ceiling is formed by arches springing from corbels affixed
|to the walls, and from a column and pilaster at the west end, all of the Corinthian order, the corbels being formed of the capital of a pilaster; these arches gather over into pendentives, and sustain a circular modillion cornice which serves as the impost to a hemispherical dome, the whole of the soffit of which is painted; it is pierced, as before observed, with port hole windows; just above these windows is a painted repetition of the cornice, and the interval between that and the lower cornice is occupied by paintings in chiaroscuro of seated female figures in imitation of sculpture representing saints and martyrs. The remainder of the dome is painted in colours, with a cherubic choir, some of whom are engaged in playing on various instruments of music, others in chaunting the praises of the Deity, and the remainder in the act of adoration. In the centre is a splendid irradiation surrounding the Hebrew name of the Deity. The effect of the whole is injured by unsightly iron scroll work depending from the centre, and which remains, although the chandelier it upheld is removed. Of the divisions westward, are recessed and occupied by a gallery, with rich pannelled front coeval with the church; and the is filled by the tower, which here, as well as in many other instances, is allowed to protrude into the church; in the basement is an entrance covered with an oak frontispiece, consisting of an arch surmounted by a cornice resting on consoles: above this, is an arched window now walled up. As a proof of the inattention of the architect to detail, it may be remarked, that neither this window nor the door below it, are in the centre of the wall; this frequent disregard of uniformity observable in the works of sir Christopher Wren, can only be accounted for by the supposition that his great mind was occupied so entirely by the grandeur of the whole, that it could not descend to pay strict attention to the parts. The wood work is deserving of attention. The altar screen is composed of a pannelled plinth sustaining a facade ending in a lofty acroterium surmounted by a shield having the cypher A. R. in a garter between pair of Corinthian columns sustaining an entablature and broken elliptical pediment, surmounted by an attic crowned by vases. The commandments, &c. are inscribed on large tablets. The whole face of the screen is enriched with a profusion of Gibbons' carving in his best style: above the decalogue is a pelican feeding her young with her blood, and the remainder of the centre is occupied by entwined tendrils, grapes, flowers, various fruits, and ears of wheat, executed with such delicacy, and at the same time so accurate, that it appears a matter of surprise how the sculptor could succeed so well on such a material; the screen is painted to represent verd antique and Sienna marbles, but the imitation is the most bungling ever witnessed, the capitals of the columns and the carvings are white. The pulpit is hexagonal, and has a sounding board of the same form richly carved, in which the pelican is introduced; it rests on a square pillar, with an Ionic|
|capital, festoons of foliage hanging from the volutes. The font is a circular basin of white marble, with cherubic heads attached to it; the cover represents a square temple, with a niche in each face, on which are statues of the evangelists distinguished by their proper symbols. In the gallery is an organ erected by subscription in , when the church was last repaired. The entrance in the south front is covered with a porch, enriched with Corinthian pilasters and crowned with an elliptical pediment, on the apex of which the pelican is repeated; there is also an entrance in the northern wall which corresponds; the arms of king James II. occupy the place of the pelican. The excellence of the building appears in some degree to have extended its influence to the monuments, the handsomest are the following; of white marble under the south-east window to the memory of sir Patience Ward, lord mayor, , died , without issue, and his lady, being a cenotaph as to the latter. The decorations are in a very correct style, and on a lofty acroterium is a marble statue of Hope about feet high; the other was erected to the memory of the wife of Mr. Alderman Perchard: it is of white marble, and is adorned with neat relievos of Faith, Hope, and Charity.|
This church was rebuilt after the fire in , under the direction and from the design of sir Christopher Wren, at an expense of The dimensions are, length feet, breadth , height , height of steeple feet. In the vestry room is a plan of the parish made in . The organ was erected in by voluntary subscription, and cost