Bishop of London leads prayers to remember Huguenots of Spitalfields

Bishop of London at Huguenots of Spitalfields Festival [picture: Jeremy Freedman]

Bishop of London at Huguenots of Spitalfields Festival [picture: Jeremy Freedman] - Credit: Spitalfields Society

The Bishop of London was joined by 350 worshippers for a special thanksgiving to celebrate the heritage of the Huguenots 400 years ago.

The service at Christ Church in London’s East End, led by The Rt Hon Richard Chartres, was one of the highlights of the ‘Huguenots of Spitalfields’ festival which runs until April 21.

The festival marks the impact of the French Protestant silk weavers when they arrived as refugees in the 16th and 17th centuries during the religious wars in Catholic France. Around 20,000 settled in Spitalfields, where their weaving skills and silk trade left an indelible mark on the East End.

Christ Church itself is a testament to the influence of the Huguenots. The first organist appointed in the 1720s was Peter Prelleur, descended from the Huguenots. Jean Rondeau, another descendant, was later elected Sexton.

The Dean of Rochester contributed a reading during yesterday’s service, from Dr Robin Gwynne’s ‘Huguenot Heritage’, followed by Giles De La Mare reading ‘All that’s past’ by his grandfather, poet and novelist Walter De La Mare, commemorating the family’s Huguenot history.

The festival marks the 415th anniversary of the Edict of Nantes, allowing French Protestants their rights to free worship—but later revoked in 1685, resulting in the flight of Huguenots to London.

It also marks the 250th anniversary of the death of Anna Garthwaite in 1763, the outstanding textile designer living in Spitalfields who worked with Huguenot weavers.

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Christ Church is hosting a lecture during the festival on the human remains excavated from the crypt 15 years ago. Its Rector Any Rider, Dean of Tower Hamlets, also takes part in a roundtable discussion at The Guildhall on the Huguenots.