St. Ghastly Grim
Four years ago on Seething Lane I stood by the stone lychgate, the dramatic entryway to the churchyard, three large stone skulls above the archway by way of greeting, spikes of iron crowning stone. “Death is my gain” reads the quote in Latin below the skulls.
St. Olave’s is just past the Walrus and the Carpenter, past modern buildings of glass and stone, past the Custom House and All Hallows by the Tower.
Samuel Pepys is buried in the churchyard. Mother Goose too. And Mary Ramsey, the woman believed to have brought the plague to London. It’s one of only a few medieval City churches that escaped the Great Fire. It was spared the fire but gutted during the Blitz.
I love St. Olave’s. Dickens did too. Dickens loved it because he loved this gate, loved how it attracted as it repulsed, his reaction visceral. His affectionate name for the church was St. Ghastly Grim. One might run from St. Bloodsucking Flesheater but not from St. Ghastly Grim. St. Ghastly Grim. It’s impossible to fear it.
Still, as Dickens once wrote, the railway shrieked at it. I used to think that the shrieks fled the rails and passed through the lychgate, that they belonged at St. Olave’s, that they holed up there and hid. Poor misunderstood shrieks, lonely inhabitants of dear St. Ghastly Grim.