London Corners: Rahere’s Sandals
Hospital wards often seem to have obscure names. St Bartholomew’s is London’s oldest hospital, and still has a Rahere Ward – but who was Rahere?
Behind Smithfield is the 12th century church of St Bart’s, and in the chapel is the tomb of Rahere, a tonsured monk who entertained King Henry I as a jester. But in 1120 the king lost Mathilde, his wife, and two years later his son in the sinking of the ‘White Ship’, off Normandy, and is said to have never to have smiled again. So Rahere was out of a job.
He went to Rome on a pilgrimage and contracted malaria. In his fever St Bartholomew appeared to him, telling him to return and build a hospital, so he did.
King Henry granted him a Royal charter in 1123 and Rahere started work, but he died before it could be finished, so his tomb was built into an arch of the presbytery. He’s lying there with a couple of canons reading his verse and the King himself presenting him with a coat of arms.
In 1866 a bit of the tomb was opened during renovations and Rahere was found to still be wearing his sandals – it being the custom to bury monks in them. One was stolen by a workman but was returned; however it was interred without being put back on Rahere’s foot, which meant the monk could no longer be at peace, so ever since his cowled form is said to haunt the building and will continue to do so until the sandal is replaced.
So the hospital ward is named after an unquiet ghost.