St Dunstan’s – sanctuary in the City

St Dunstan-in-the-East, detail

I’ve just finished working on the second assignment for my landscape course.  The brief was that we had to choose an area of approximately one acre of ‘countryside’ and take a large variety of photos that gave a sense of the place.  ‘Countryside’ can be interpreted fairly liberally, so I chose a small garden within a ruined church, right in the centre of The City of London.

I’ve never been a religious person; I find plenty of meaning in life, but it comes to me in other ways.  When I was a child my mother used to drag me along to church and I’d sit there longing with all my heart to be outside in the sunshine.  It seemed to me even at the age of eight, that if there was indeed a god, he would be better served by getting out and appreciating this fantastic world that he’d made.  I imagined him looking down, banging his forehead against a brick wall (or perhaps an unusually solid cloud) and saying (and UK readers can imagine a kind of Richard Wilson voice here):  “I don’t believe it!  I make this amazing place for you to use any way you want to, and I really hoped you were going to have a good time there, and what do you do?  You sit in a dim, man-made environment, singing mournfully and shutting yourselves away from the sun – which I also created and which took a lot of damned hard work, let me tell you – and you moan on about your sins and how you’re not deserving of what I’ve given you.  Well, let me be the judge of that – your job is to rejoice in it, for god’s sake! ”  You get the picture.

So when I came across this little gem of a place in London, it symbolised something for me.  It’s a mediaeval church with a Tower designed by Christopher Wren (who also designed St Paul’s Cathedral).  It was bombed heavily during the Blitz of WWII and all that remained of it was the tower, which was still intact, and the walls of the church.  It was decided not to rebuild the main church, but to turn the ruins into a garden.  It’s now a beautiful, peaceful place with trees and a fountain, and benches where office workers come to eat lunch and sit quietly.  To me it represents that feeling I had as a child: the lush green of the plants growing inside the building and the roof open to the light and the sky brings the natural world inside a sacred space, and that just feels right somehow.

Despite the fact that large numbers of people are using it on any weekday lunchtime, the atmosphere is unusually quiet and serene.  Most people read or eat packed lunches; there aren’t usually many people talking and although the occasional person is engaged in conversation on their mobile, the sound doesn’t carry  – I guess the trees and shrubs soak it up.  It has all the good qualities of a church – the peace, the meditative feeling, the beautiful stonework – while essentially being a place of nature.

The following are a selection of photos I took there, some to be used in the assignment, some not.  And you’ll find another one here.

St Dunstan-in-the-East, lunchtime

St Dunstan-in-the-East, reflection

St Dunstan-in-the-East, window detail

St Dunstan-in-the-East, benches

St Dunstan-in-the-East, dog

St Dunstan-in-the-East, legs

St Dunstan-in-the-East, lunchtime

St Dunstan-in-the-East, ray of light