Southwark Cathedral is located in the present day borough of Southwark, London. However, during the Middle Ages it was in Bridge Without ward. It is on the south bank of the River Thames and close to the London Bridge. This site went through many transitions and. although now called Southwark Cathedral, it was never referred to as such during the Middle Ages. It first went by the name of St. Mary Overie, meaning “Over the river,” and then in the later Middle Ages it went by the name St. Saviour.
In 660 C.E., this site was rumored to have been the home of a ‘House of Sisters.’ This convent was thought to have been associated with the Virgin Mary. The first documentary evidence for this site, however, was in Domesday Book, which revealed that, between the years 1042 and 1066, the site was a monastery whose personnel were in charge of overseeing the unloading of goods from the River Thames.
In 1106, two Norman Knights, William Pont de l’Arche and Willian Dauncy, founded and built a church meant for the worship of St. Mary. These two knights enlisted the aid of William Gifford, Bishop of Winchester, who decided to have this site become a priory for Augustinian canons. Together with the Augustinians, the knights laid out a plan for the priory to be built in the Norman style, parts of which that are still visible in Southwark Cathedral today. Norman architecture was Romanesque, distinguishable by its rounded arches, aisles in the church, and its distinctive apse. Although mostly destroyed by a fire in 1212, there are still remnants of the original Norman structure at Southwark Cathedral. An examination of the remnants reveals that the priory was constructed with ragstone rubble, chalk, and lead. These Norman influences can be seen in the rounded arches that remain in the back right portion of the present-day cathedral, the arched doorway that leads into the church, and in the the apse that is in the archeological chamber outside the cathedral.
This priory was important to London because of its impact on the people. Like many of its kind, the priory had a chapel in which services were conducted, and had a library and places to sleep for the canons. Augustinian priories were different than other monasteries because they stressed the importance of serving the people of the city. Therefore, this site was not only important because it was a place for the canons to worship, but because it was also a place for education and hospitality. The order of Saint Augustine focused on education, and therefore the city was greatly served by the presence of these centers of learning. In addition, it offered a place of lodging. Laypeople were allowed to live in the priory. For example John Gower, the poet, not only got married in this priory, but once lived within its walls.
The fire of 1212 destroyed major portions of the priory. With the help of the Bishop of Winchester, Peter des Roches, it was rebuilt in the new English gothic style. After another fire destroyed the priory in the late fourteenth century, only a few remnants survived of this original medieval gothic architecture. What is distinguishable about gothic style, which was common between the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, are the pointed arches. At this site, however, the remaining medieval gothic elements can be seen mainly in the features that begin after the transept (the middle section) of the cathedral, in the cruciform layout, and parts of the retroquire in the front of the cathedral.
Another reason this priory seemed to hold great importance in the city of London is because of the prominent individuals who visited the church. In 1424, the Bishop of Winchester (Henry Beaufort, who was the illegitimate son of John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster) chose to marry his niece and King James I of Scotland in this priory.
In 1539, the last Prior, and his canons, set foot on this site, following the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Afterwards, the site was renamed St. Saviour and turned into a civil parish. Queen Mary I (“Bloody Mary) conducted trials at this parish church. The rent was priced at 50 pounds per annum.
- Jamie Toto