This church is located on the main east-west thoroughfare, Cheapside. Archeological evidence suggests that a church had existed on this site during Saxon times. A medieval version of the church was destroyed by the London Tornado of 1091. Thechurch, known as St Mary de Arcubus was rebuilt during the reign of Henry II and was famed for the arches of stone. These were known as ‘bows’ and this is likely how the church got its name.
From the 11th century onwards, the church was considered the second most important one in the City of London after St Paul’s Cathedral. It was the seat of the Anglican ecclesiastical court, the Court of Arches. It is still home to the court in the present day. The ‘bow bells’ were once used to sound the nightly curfew and it is these bells that, within the sound of, true Cockneys are born.
The church was one of the first to be rebuilt after the Great Fire by Sir Christopher Wren between 1671 and 1673. The steeple, at 223ft is Wren’s most celebrated and is topped by a golden dragon. The 3-bay interior is almost square in design with narrow aisles and is modelled on the Basilica of Constantine and Maxentius in Rome. The ceiling is barrel-vaulted.
On 10th May, 1941 most of the current church was destroyed by a German bomb during the Blitz. During the ensuing fire, the bells crashed to the ground. Restoration began in 1956 and a new peal of bells were cast the same year. These were installed to resume ringing in 1961, and the church was reconsecrated in 1964.