Located close to the Bankside theatres where William Shakespeare’s plays would have been performed, Southwark Cathedral – known then as St Saviour’s Church – has plenty of connections to the Elizabethan theatre world.
Not only was the Bard’s youngest brother, the actor Edmund, buried here in 1607 (the grave is unmarked but there’s a commemorative stone in the floor of the choir), the playwrights John Fletcher and Philip Massinger and theatre owner Phillip Henslowe were also buried here. And like them, another theatre owner (and Henslowe’s son-in-law), Edward Alleyne, also held positions at the church.
The cathedral has several memorials to Shakespeare. These include a memorial window in the south aisle – unveiled in April 1954 on the anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, it depicts characters from some of his works and was designed by Christopher Webb to replace an earlier window which had been destroyed during World War II. Below it is an alabaster reclining figure of the playwright set against a relief of Southwark as it appeared during the 17th century. Carved by Henry McCarthy, it was unveiled in 1912.
The history of the church is believed to go back to at least Saxon times. Between 1106 and 1538, it served as the church of the Augustinian Southwark Priory and was dedicated to St Mary Overie. Following the Dissolution in the mid 16th century was re-dedicated as the parish church of St Saviour’s. It only became a cathedral in 1905 with the creation of the Diocese of Southwark. While some scant parts of the building date back to the 12th century (the church was rebuilt after a fire in the 13th century), much of it has been altered.
For more on Elizabethan England, check out Ian Mortimer’s recent book The Time Traveller’s Guide to Elizabethan England.