Last night Sue and I did an evening tour of Southwark Cathedral.
Southwark Cathedral sits at the south end of London Bridge. Its pre-Norman origins are mostly legends with very little historical proof. It has been claimed that its foundation as a church was in 606, but this seems highly unlikely. Another story claims there was a nunnery here in pre-Norman times and also a college of priests founded by a noble lady called Swithene. Some historians have actually suggested that a more likely founder was actually Bishop Swithern of Winchester, who held office from 852 to 863. Certainly, there must’ve been an established church here as the Domesday book (1086) records the ‘Minster at Southwark’, controlled by Bishop Odo of the Bayeaux, the half-brother of William the Conqueror. However, it was the Bishop of Winchester who founded a Priory dedicated to the Virgin Mary on this site, close to his London Palace, in 1106. Its actual dedication is to St Mary Overie (St Mary over the water) to distinguish itself from the churches of St Mary in the city of London on the other side of London Bridge.
The Priory was damaged by fire in 1212 and 1390 and in 1496 the stone ceiling of the nave collapsed and was replaced by a wooden one. However, despite all of these calamities, repairs were carried out and in 1520 Bishop Fox installed a new altar screen, which is still present today, at the west end. The Priory closed in 1540, as part of the dissolution of the monasteries, and the church was first leased to, and later granted to, the people of Southwark for use as a parish church. It seems however that the cost of upkeep was beyond the parish and by the 19th century, much of the church was in a bad state with only the west end in use. A major effort was made to restore the church to its former glory and much effort to ensure that the Victorian rebuilding was done in the style of the Medieval original. Thus today when you look at it, there is a continuity between the 13th-century elements and those added by the Victorian rebuilders. In 1905, with the expansion of population south of the river, a new diocese in the Church of England was created and the church was redesignated as The Cathedral Church of St Mary Overie and St Saviour.