St Clement Danes - The Worshipful Company of Parish Clerks

St Clement Danes

• St Clement Danes is a church in the City of Westminster. It is situated outside the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand. The current building was completed in 1682 by Wren and it now functions as the central church of the Royal Air Force.

• The church is sometimes claimed to be the one featured in the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons and the bells do indeed play that tune. However, St Clement Eastcheap, in the City, also claims to be the church from the rhyme.

• St Clement Danes is known as one of the two 'Island Churches', the other being St Mary le Strand. The first church on the site was reputedly founded by Danes living nearby in the 9th century. The location, on the river between the City and the future site of Westminster, was home to many Danes at a time when half of England was Danish. Being a seafaring race, the Danes named the church they built after St Clement, patron saint of mariners. King Harold I was buried here in March 1040 after his body was disinterred by his briefly usurped brother and thrown into the marshes bordering the Thames.

• The church was first rebuilt by William the Conqueror and then again in the Middle Ages. It was in such a bad state by the end of the 17th century that it was demolished and again rebuilt from 1680–1682, this time by Wren. The steeple was added to the 115 foot tower from 1719-1720 by James Gibbs.

• Saint Clement is commemorated every April at St Clement Danes, a modern clementine custom/revival. Reverend William Pennington-Bickford initiated the service in 1919 to celebrate the restoration of the famous church bells and carillon, which he’d had altered to ring out the popular nursery rhyme. This special service for children ends with the distribution of oranges and lemons to the boys and girls.

• The church was almost destroyed by German bombs during the Blitz of 10 May 1941. The outer walls, the tower and Gibbs's steeple, survived the bombing, but the interior was gutted by fire.

• Following an appeal for funds by the Royal Air Force, the church was completely restored and was re-consecrated on 19 October 1958 to become the Central Church of the Royal Air Force. Services are regularly held to commemorate prominent occasions of the RAF and its associated organisations.

• There are also features throughout the church and outside the building commemorating people and units of the RAF.

• As part of the rebuilding, a Latin inscription was added over the main door of the church, translating as: "Built by Christopher Wren 1682. Destroyed by the thunderbolts of air warfare 1941. Restored by the Royal Air Force 1958."


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