St Helen’s Place, EC3A

Place Name

The adjacent St Helen’s Church, Bishopsgate is all that remains of the former priory that stood nearby. The church was said to have been built by the Roman Emperor Constantine on the site of a pagan temple shortly after he converted to Christianity in AD312. He dedicated his church to his mother, Helena, the wife of the Roman emperor Constantius. Sometime around 1216 a Benedictine convent was founded. It was one of the more fashionable nunneries for which medieval women would take their vows, and was a favourite of wealthy widows and unmarried daughters. However these Black Nuns, so named after their habits, were hardly the most devout. In 1385 the nuns were scolded for the number of little dogs kept by their prioress and for kissing secular persons and wearing ostentatious veils. Clearly, this telling off had little affect. In 1439 the nuns had a “dancing and revelling” ban imposed upon them except at Christmas – and then only among themselves. The nunnery was closed down in 1538 under Henry VIII’s land grab against the Catholic Church the dissolution of the monasteries. The nunnery’s buildings were sold to the Leathersellers’ Company.

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