London church celebrates legacy of the Huguenots

The Bishop of London with children dressed in the style of the time of the Huguenots at a thanksgiving service in Spitalfields(Photo: Jeremy Freedman)

The Bishop of London was at Christ Church Spitalfields last Thursday for a special thanksgiving service celebrating the heritage of the Huguenots.

The Huguenots were French Protestants forced to leave Catholic France in the 16th century because of persecution.

The Diocese of London said the 20,000 Huguenots who settled in Spitalfields left "an indelible mark" on the area with their skills in weaving and working with silk.

Christ Church also has links to the Huguenots.  The first organist appointed to play the Richard Bridge organ at Christ Church was Peter Prelleur, a local resident of Huguenot descent.

In the 18th century, Jean Rondeau, of Huguenot ancestry, was elected to be Sexton at Christ Church Spitalfields. Many other Huguenot families are recorded on memorial plaques in the church.

Around 350 people gathered at the church for the service. The Dean of Rochester read from Dr Robin Gwynne's 'Huguenot Heritage', while Giles De La Mare read the poem 'All that's past' by his grandfather, poet and novelist, Walter De La Mare, commemorating the family's Huguenot history.

Prayers were said by representatives of countries who welcomed Huguenot refugees. The retiring collection was in aid of Huguenots of Spitalfields Public Art Fund and the Huguenot Heritage Centre in Rochester.

The service was part of a wider festival in Spitalfields taking place to mark the 15th anniversary of the signing of the Edict of Nantes by Henry IV of France, which promised to respect the right of Protestant Huguenots to worship. It was, however, later revoked by Louis XIV in 1685, causing many Huguenots to flee to England.

Funds raised by the festival will go towards a permanent memorial commemorating the life and work of Huguenots.

Christ Church will be involved in the festival in other ways, hosting a church tour and lecture on human remains excavated in the crypt.

Rector of Christ Church, the Reverend Andy Rider, will be participating in a roundtable at Guildhall exploring the questions: "What is a Huguenot? What is a Protestant?"

Mr Rider said: "It was a privilege to host this special service of thanksgiving to commemorate the Huguenots of Spitalfields. We celebrate not just their impact on this area but to London and the many places that the Huguenot community settled following their times of trial and persecution. We celebrate not just their business endeavours, their art and culture but principally we remember them as a people of deep biblical Christian faith."

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