The Priory of St Bartholomew the Great was founded in 1123 by Rahere, an Augustinian friar and a Canon at nearby St Paul’s Cathedral. It is recorded that he undertook this task as a result of his recovery from a fever. The Priory included the Hospital of St Bartholomew, the forerunner of one of London’s major medical teaching hospitals. The Priory Church was named ‘the great’ to distinguish it from the church of St Bartholomew the Less (‘smaller’) which was situated within the hospital itself.
The original Priory Church suffered greatly in the dissolution of the monasteries in 1543. Much of the west end and nave were demolished, although the East End of the original church continued in use to serve the local population. It saw a brief re-emergence as a Priory Church from 1556 to 1559 when a Dominican house established here under the brief restoration of the monasteries instigated by Queen Mary.
After the great fire of 1666, it began to fall into disuse and at one point in the 18th century was occupied by squatters. There are records which indicate that parts of the church were often let out as workshops to local tradesmen. The late 19th-century saw major efforts to restore the church and it continues to serve today as the parish church of the local area. It is the Guild church to a number of livery companies in the city and has appeared as a venue in many films.