St. Paul’s Cathedral
Over the course of history, many houses of worship have been erected on the "Pauline Hill," and given the name of St. Paul’s. More than once, St. Paul’s was destroyed by fire. But each time it was destroyed, it was rebuilt, each time greater, each time more magnificent. Its origins date back to Anglo-Saxon times, as H. Douglas-Irvine tells us: "London was the metropolis of the East Saxons, and the hill on which the cathedral now stands was, in some sort, the central point of London" (409). The church of Saint Paul was built in 604 under the auspices of King Ethelred. Its monastery served as the burial place of bishops and, on some occasions, of royalty.
In 962, while London was occupied by the Danes, St. Paul’s monastery was burnt and raised anew. The church survived the Norman conquest of 1066, but in 1087 it was burnt again. An ambitious Bishop named Maurice took the opportunity to build a new St. Paul’s, even petitioning the king to offer a piece of land belonging to one of his castles (Times 115). The building Maurice initiated would become the cathedral of St. Paul’s which survived until the Great Fire of 1666. His work was continued by Richard de Belmeis, who created the churchyard and enlarged the surrounding streets and lanes at his own cost (Douglas-Irvine 410). Henry I offered part of the ditch of Baynard’s Castle to the project, and also lifted toll and customs from ships bearing stone for the church. St. Paul’s was burned, but not destroyed, in 1135.
The church was renovated in 1175–56, and again in the thirteenth century. Permission had been granted in 1205 to build a marketplace to the east of the church, and the "New Work" began in 1251 (414). Various Welsh, Irish, and Scottish bishops offered indulgences to penitents who aided in the project. By 1283, the major part of the building had been completed. Problems arose between the church, the city, and the state on issues such as boundaries, and the right to open the churchyard’s gates, but by 1285 the majority of these disputes were resolved.
In the early part of the fourteenth century, much care was taken to add to the church and to repair that which already stood. In 1300, it was ordained that all donations to the cathedral be used for the "New Work." In 1320, Bishop Richard Newport ordered that collections be taken up from all churches within the jurisdiction of the see to fund the repair of the bell tower. Edward II allowed the completion of the churchyard wall in 1316–17. However, by the end of the century, the structures which made up St. Paul’s were being neglected. Furthermore, as commercial activity increased in and around St. Paul’s, the cathedral was plagued by vandals.
Under Henry VI, the focus shifted from the bettering of St. Paul’s to its destruction. Chapels and altars were destroyed. Stones were removed to aid in the building of Somerset’s palace, and in 1553 the king commanded all the plate and coin and the vestments and copes of the cathedral to be "given for the king’s grace" (416).
It would seem that the Almightywas in favour of the destruction begun by Henry VI, for in 1561 a lightning bolt struck the steeple, igniting a massive fire. A report of the event was printed a week later:
On Wednesday being the fourth day of June in the year of our Lord 1561 . . . between one and two of the clock at afternoon was seen a marvelous great fiery lightning, and immediately ensued a most terrible hideous crack of thunder such as seldom hath been heard. . . . Divers persons in time of the said tempest being on the river of Thames, and others being in the field near adjoining to the City affirmed that they saw a long and a spear-pointed flame of fire (as it were) run through the top of the broach or shaft of Paul’s steeple, from the east westward.
(qtd. in Saint and Darley 71)
The stone structure remained, but the tower, steeple, and timberwork were incinerated. Queen Elizabeth I ordered a series of repairs to the cathedral. Nonetheless, the decaying of St. Paul’s continued. Despite repeated attempts to revive the cathedral, for the next 100 years its condition worsened.
In spite of its ruinous state, the cathedral and its churchyard remained a centre of activity in London. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Paul’s churchyard was the principal bookselling venue of the city. It was also a centre of socializing and loud gossiping, much to the chagrin of those attending services at the adjacent choir. Proclamations were read to the people there, and, in January of 1606, four of the conspirators in the Gunpowder Plot were marched in a procession from the Tower, along Cheapside street to Paul’s churchyard, where they were executed (Williamson 224).
Religious activity did not cease at Old Paul’s. In Elizabethan and early Stuart London, it led a sacred and secular double life. The churchyard and part of the cathedral itself were the site of trade and socializing, but sermons were still preached both inside and out of the church, to "crowds of citizens whose ears were itching for political allusions or for nice points of theology or of ethics" (Times 112). John Donne became dean of St. Paul’s in 1621, and it was there that he preached the majority of his legendary sermons, either inside the cathedral or to crowds of hundreds in the open-air pulpit at Paul’s Cross.
In the early part of the seventeenth century, much ado was made about the restoration of St. Paul’s. A royal commission was formed to restore and maintain the church in 1620. Court architect Inigo Jones added a new portico (door) to the cathedral front in the 1630s. The civil war halted development, and the cathedral was closed by Parliament in 1642. Its uses in the 1640s included a barracks and a horse stable. Some order was restored after the Restoration, but the final blow to Old Paul’s crumbling body came in the form of the Great Fire of 1666. The cathedral was destroyed. It would be almost a decade before work would begin on New Paul’s, Christopher Wren’s masterpiece.
- Chalfant, Fran C. Ben Jonson’s London: A Jacobean Placename Dictionary. Athens, GA: U of Georgia P, 1978. Print.
Douglas-Irvine, Miss H.
Cathedral of St. Paul.The Victoria History of London. Ed. William F. Page. Vol. 1. London: Constable, 1909. 409–32. Print.
- Saint, Andrew, and Gillian Darley. The Chronicles of London. New York: St. Martin’s, 1994. Print.
- Times, The. The City of London: A Book Reprinted from the Special Number of the Times. London: Times, 1928. Print.
- Wall, John N, ed. Virtual Paul’s Cross Project. North Carolina State U. Web. Open.
- Williamson, Hugh Ross. The Gunpowder Plot. London: Faber, n.d. Print.
This project is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.
Share | |