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St Bartholomew the Less

St Bartholomew the Less


Walk past what remains of the church window, passing Vestry House on the right. Keep walking down Newgate Street until you reach the corner. Turn right into Giltspur Street.

If you glance left as you approach Cock Lane, on the other side of the road, you will see the Golden Boy at Pye Corner, which was put up as a memorial to where the Great Fire of London stopped. This blames the ‘sin of gluttony’ for starting the fire, as it began at a baker’s in Pudding Lane and ended at Pye Corner, where there were food stalls during fairs.

Walk past the red telephone box on the right, you are at West Smithfield.  Enter the Henry Vlll gate on the right, which is the entrance to St Bartholomew the Less church.

Background information


This fifteenth century church has the medieval St Bartholomew hospital as its parish. The hospital was founded in 1123 by the jester, Rahere, a member of Henry l’s court. He loved banquets and fun, but his life changed when his beloved Queen Matilda died. Two years later, the king’s son and heir William and other members of the royal family drowned when their ship sank in the English Channel. This made him reflect on his life.

Rahere decided to go to pilgrimage to Rome, but he fell ill with what he described as ‘Roman fever’ – probably malaria. He prayed that if he recovered, he would build a hospital for the sick poor. On his journey home, he saw a vision of St Bartholomew, who saved him from a winged monster and who told him to build the church in Smithfield.

Work began on muddy Smithfield land, known as Smoothfield, the site of a gallows. Rahere became the first Prior of the church and the first Master of the hospital, posts he held until his death in 1143. St Barts survived both the Great Fire of London and the Blitz.

Rahere’s tomb can be seen in the adjoining St Bartholomew the Great church, with the words,

“For the Lord will comfort Zion; he will comfort all her waste places, and will make her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord.”  Isaiah 51:3

The East stained glass window in St Bartholomew the Less depicts Rahere, with harlequin trousers, but dressed as a monk, with St Bartholomew, who carries the flaying knife symbol of his martyrdom in his hand. This window was a gift of The Worshipful Company of Glaziers, a livery company, whose motto is Lucem Tuam Da Nobis Deo, Latin for O God, Give Us Your Light.


  • How would you answer someone who said life was just about having fun?
  • Think of any examples where waste places have been turned into gardens. How can this also be symbolic of people’s life experiences?
  • What journeys have changed our lives?


  • Take photographs of places within or outside the school that may be seen as ‘waste places’ – perhaps they are run down, need decorating or have litter. Share in groups ideas about how these places can be transformed. Choose one project and transform it together.

Nurses, Physicians and Surgeons

St Bartholomew the Less also is devoted to doctors and nurses who served and lost their lives during the Second World War. A stained glass window from the 1950s shows a nurse who was helping people trapped by an unexploded bomb in Smithfield Market. The bomb exploded and killed her. The blue and white shield is the heraldic shield of St Bartholomew’s hospital and Florence Nightingale’s lamp is depicted.

Practical points

Smithfield Gate (enter through gate to hospital)
West Smithfield

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