Beside the famous Tower of London and a quick walk to Tower Bridge stands All Hallows by the Tower, the oldest church in the City of London.
The church dates back to 675 AD, and over its history has had connections to not only St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher, but also William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury who also is among the English Martyrs executed on Tower Hill. The church is also where US President John Quincy Adams was married to his wife Louisa Catherine Johnson.
While you’re at All Hallows by the Tower, be sure to pick up this handy map of notable churches to visit. If you can make out the small print in the image, you may even use it to plan a pilgrimage or prayer walk through central London.
Before you leave All Hallows by the Tower, cross the road to the Tower Hill memorial where St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher were martyred. We have a Catholic Wonders article here.
London’s Oldest Catholic Church
While All Hallows by the Tower is the oldest church in London, it is not the oldest Catholic church in operation. To find that, you’ll have to head to St. Etheldreda’s Church at Ely Place, located on a private residential street in the Holborn district of London.
St. Etheldreda’s at Ely Place was founded in 1290 and is only one of two buildings still standing during the reign of King Edward I. The Church lost possession of the building in 1772 to the Crown. It was purchased back at an auction in 1874 for £5,400.
St. Etheldreda’s was the oldest Catholic church in the all of England until 1971, when Sts. Malton and Mary in North Yorkshire (dating back to the 12th century) were returned to Catholicism.
St. Etheldreda’s Church is publicly accessible, providing visitors follow rules set in place as they enter the private residential street. One of the rules is photography and videography are not allowed by visitors of this gated community, meaning no visitor would be able to snap an image of its exterior.
This off-the-beaten-path church is highly recommended for pilgrims looking for a unique journey. The gated community offers a sanctuary away from the street noise and bustling of tourists. The quiet atmosphere returns the faithful back to the contemplative silence this chapel offered when it originally a monastery founded by the titular Saint Etheldreda.
We visit London in two other Catholic Wonders. Check out London’s Monument of Catholic Emancipation, and Eat, Pray, & See London From an Unexpected Place.