Old St Pancras
I was meeting a friend at London's St Pancras International recently and, since I had some time to kill, walked up the road to Old St Pancras church, just behind the station (not a place to linger in after dark!). For some unaccountable reason, I had never been there before, and yet it claims to be one of the oldest Christian sites in the country. Indeed, the sign boldly claims that the church has been 'a site of prayer and meditation since 314 AD.'
There is no hard evidence for the claim, but it is an impressive one to make - the dedication of St Pancras is certainly a very ancient one and may have originated with the mission of St Augustine of Canterbury, who promoted the cults of Roman saints as part of his evangelization of the south-east. In the nineteenth century what was thought to be a sixth century altar stone was found - and immediately dubbed 'St Augustine's Altar'! Some think that the site of the church was a pagan shrine that was converted to Christian use in Roman times, long before St Augustine (and 314, just after the conversion of Constantine, seems a convenient date).
The interior of the (Anglican) church is pleasant enough, with a few old monuments (including that of the minaturist, Samuel Cooper), an exposed bit of Norman wall (on the extreme left of the photo below) and a shrine to Our Lady of Walsingham (out of view). One feels a million miles away from the bustling station nearby!
The most interesting dimension of Old St Pancras is the graveyard, which was once favoured by the Catholic community due to its ancient origins and the tradition that the church was one of the last where Mass was said publicly at the Reformation (the Elizabethan incumbent, a Marian priest, seems to have celebrated Mass in Latin well into the second half of the sixteenth century and was tolerated by the authorities). Several of the Vicars Apostolic were buried in the churchyard, including Bonaventure Giffard, and many of the French refugees during the Revolution (including Archbishop Dillon, whose porcelain false teeth were recently found). Other famous burials include J. C. Bach and Sir John Soane. Next time you're at King's Cross or St Pancras, it's worth popping down Midland Rd (the road in between St Pancras and the British Library) and visiting this site, sanctified by centuries of Catholic associations.