Museum of the Order of St John
Seven members/guests of the Society visited the Museum in Clerkenwell on Saturday, 22 February 2014. Most of us travelled to Farringdon Station, and negotiated our way around the hoardings above Crossrail’s excavations – part of Europe’s largest infrastructure project.
In the Crossrail Visitor Centre at Tottenham Court Road, for a month only to 15 March, a selection of archaeological finds from across the project are currently on display in its Portals to the Past exhibition.
But, that Saturday, we walked to another Gate, only five minutes away: St John’s Gate was the great south entrance to the Priory of Clerkenwell – founded in the early 1140s – outside the walls of the City of London. Now, it is the only gateway spanning a highway in London.
At 11:30 am we met our Guide for an excellent private tour of the Grade 1 Listed buildings to discover the story of the former Priory and of the Order of St John from the 11th century to today’s role with St John Ambulance and the Eye Hospital in Jerusalem. As well as the 1504 Gate and its Towers, we saw the Tudor-style Chapter Hall, and Council Chamber. Crossing the busy Clerkenwell Road, we visited the Grand Priory Church, beside the herb garden – a quiet oasis. Above ground, the Church is a post-war restoration following destruction of the roof and most of the interior fittings by a bomb in 1941. Beneath, is a remarkable Norman crypt: all that remains visible of the original Priory. Of the effigies, that of William Weston, Prior 1527-1540 – looking completely emaciated – was the most moving. Weston, we were told, was the last Prior of the Order at the time of its dissolution in England under Henry VIII, and died of a broken heart on the very day the act went through. The public Museum Rooms contain displays exploring further the fascinating history of the Order of St John.
This FHHS visit proved really worthwhile; thank you Keith.
By Jane B-D/4 Mar 14