The sermon takes its name from the Priory or Hospital of St Mary Without Bishopgate, better known as St Mary Spital, founded in 1197. It has been preached every year since the late 14th Century. The Spital was a house for tending the sick and so the object of the sermons was to attract attention, and so alms and bequests to the hospital. The Sermon is preached by a bishop invited by the Lord Mayor and the Court of Aldermen and in the recent years this has moved from the second Thursday after Easter each year to a date in February or March, coinciding with a meeting of the Court of Common Council. Historically, the subject was The Resurection, but more recently, the theme has been The Spread of Truth.
The sermons were formerly attended by the Lord Mayor, the Court of Aldermen and the governors of the Royal Hospitals (i.e. St Bartholomew's, Bethlem, Bridewell, Christ's and St Thomas'). Since the City's links with Barts, Bethlem and St Thomas' were severed by the National Health Act of 1946, the Sermon is now attended by the Lord Mayor, the Court of Aldermen, Common Councilmen and the governors of Bridewell and Christ's. Pupils of Christ's Hospital and King Edward's School Witley alternate in providing reader and the choir for the service.
After the Pulpit Cross in the churchyard of the priory at Spital Square was destroyed during the Civil War, the sermons were preached in different City churches; after the Restoration until 1797 at St Bride's, Fleet Street; and subsequently at Christ Church Newgate Street. Since the Second World War, the sermon has been preached in St Lawrence Jewry.
This year preacher is The Rt Rev'd Christopher Chessun, Bishop of Southwark.
To read the full context of last year's sermon by the Rt. Rev'd & Rt. Hon. Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, please click Spital Sermon 2016.