St Olave’s survives as a rare example of the mediaeval churches that existed before the Great Fire of London in 1666. The flames came within 100 metres or so of the building but then the wind changed direction, saving a number of churches on the eastern side of the City.
The church was severely damaged in the bombing of World War II, but enough of the fabric and original masonry was spared to permit the building to be lovingly restored in the 1950s and to continue its life and work into the second half of the 20th century and now the 21st.
People entering St Olave’s for the first time are frequently surprised to find the timeless atmosphere of a modest ancient parish church in the heart of the modern City and this surprise more often than not yields to increasing delight as they explore its interior. This truth about St Olave’s was well expressed by The Revd Augustus Powell Miller, the Rector who saw through the post-war restoration:
'Often we remind ourselves that we are the heirs of nine centuries of Christian worship on this hallowed site. For all those long years… the praises of God and the prayers of His people have been ascending to the Throne of grace from this place. The very mental and spiritual atmosphere which you breathe as you step out of Hart Street into this Sanctuary has been gradually created by the worshippers of the past. And many times in recent days when visitors have come in to see the restored church they have confessed to having paused; they entered to view what the craftsmen had wrought but had to own their consciousness of its hallowed atmosphere. "Other men have laboured" and we, in the mercy of God have been given the privilege of "entering into their labours." In the quiet and silence of this Sanctuary we can know that "we are compassed about with a great cloud of witnesses," and that the past mingles with the present and can inspire us for whatever tasks the future has in store for us.'
A recently published history of the church available to purchase.
Monument to Sir James Deane (1608)
photo David Iliff