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THE DEVIL's VISIT TO ST. MICHAEL'S

A TALE OF OLD CORNHILL

The devil on Cornhill that looks down upon the entrance to the church of St Peter.

THE DEVIL CAME BY

By Richard Jones

It has to be said that the devil seems to have a robust presence on Cornhill.

Walk along the street from east to west, and you will encounter a series of devils scowling down from the rooftop of the Victorian building that occupies 54 - 55 Cornhill.

Walk a little further west and you will encounter the wonderful church of St Michael's, Cornhill.

You might feel tempted to do what so many city strollers do, and just hurry past the church without giving it a second glance; an action which would, most certainly, be your loss; for the church has an absolutely exquisite interior and offers a welcome respite from the rush and noise of 21st century Cornhill.

The acoustics inside the church are particularly noteworthy, and the chance to experience one of the weekly organ recitals should not be missed.

THE CHURCH WARDEN'S PEW

Having stepped inside the church, and having turned an abrupt left to walk into the main body of the building, it is worth pausing beside the first pew on the left, and admiring a very detailed carving that adorns it.

The carving on the church wardens pew showing St Michael driving a spear into the devil's mouth..

ST MICHAEL AND THE DEVIL

The carving, which shows a very stern-faced St Michael thrusting a spear into the mouth of a particularly loathsome and malevolent looking devil, dates from the 19th century and was the work of the eminent wood carver William Gibbs Rogers (1792 - 1875).

I have to say that this devil is a particularly fearsome, though extremely realistic, looking specimen, and I for one always give thanks when I pay the church a visit, that St Michael is on hand to prevent this hideous demon from leaping out of the carving and inflicting whatever damage his type might choose to inflict on unsuspecting visitors.

A close-up of the devil's face on the churchwarden's pew.

INSPIRED BY A FOLK TALE

The carving is said to have been inspired by an episode from the church's pre-fire past, that was recorded by the historian and antiquarian John Stow (1524/25 – 1605) in his Survey of London, published in 1598.

Stow was actually born in the parish of St Michael, Cornhill; and, as a consequence, he was able to set down a legend, that had been told to him by his father, concerning a set of "claw" marks that were visible on one of the walls of the church that he knew - and which was destroyed by the Great Fire of London in 1666.

Stow tells the story thus:-

"And here note of this steeple as I have oft heard my father report upon St James's night certain men in the loft next under the bells, ringing of a peale, a tempest of thunder and lightnings did arise, and an ugly shapen sight appeared to them coming in at the south window, and lighted on the north, for feare thereof, they all fell down and lay as dead for the time, letting the bells ring and cease of their own accord.

When the ringers came to themselves, they found certaine stones of the north window to be 'razed' and 'scrat' as if they had been so much butter printed with a lion's claw, the same stones were fastened there again, and so remain to this day; I have seen them oft, and have put a feather or small stick into the holes where the claws had entered three or four inches deep."