On the night of the 30th of November 1940, Southampton felt the full force of the Nazi war machine, as the Luftwaffe dropped 800 high explosive bombs and 9000 incendiary bombs on the town centre.
Holyrood Church, which stood on the corner where Bernard Street met the High Street, was one of approximately 500 buildings completely destroyed that night, a night in which 214 Southampton residents lost their lives.
Holyrood can trace its origins back to at least the year 1160, when King Henry II granted the land, although this was in a different location on the High Street. The Holy Rood is a Christian relic, with Rood being an old English word meaning ‘cross’, the Holy Rood would be part of the cross upon which Jesus died. In 1320, this original church was demolished, and the new one, the one we know now as Holyrood, was built on its current site.
For centuries it was an important place for both residents of Southampton, and perhaps more interestingly, visitors to the town.
Crusaders, who would depart Southampton for ‘the Holy Land’, would use the church for worship.
In 1415, Henry V’s army used Southampton to depart for France. His soldiers, who would famously claim victory at Agincourt, worshipped at Holyrood Church before boarding the boats that would take them in to battle.
One of the most powerful men in the world at the time, King Philip II of Spain, was a famous visitor to the Church. His Spanish Empire was known as the ‘Empire on which the sun never sets’ due to its size, his power and influence was truly impressive (the Phillipines are named after him!). In 1554 he arrived in Southampton and visited Holyrood Church, before heading off to Winchester Cathedral to marry Queen Mary, who is now better known as ‘Bloody Mary’…
All of that history was then basically wiped out on the night of the 30th of November 1940, although not even German high explosives could completely topple this Southampton landmark. Mostly destroyed, but still standing as a ruin, the Church was restored in 1957 and dedicated as a memorial to Merchant Navy seamen. Over the centuries, the Church had been used lots by sailors stopping at the town.
Subsequent improvements have been made to the site, such as a glass roof, and it is now an interesting ruin and monument filled with memorials not just to the Merchant Navy, but also to the Titanic as well. A fountain dedicated to those who lost their lives in the disaster used to be situated on the Common, but was moved in to the ruins of Holyrood and can be seen there today.
It’s an interesting place to look around, and well worth a visit.