28 May 2014

Great Buildings: The Cathedral Church of St Paul The Apostle, London

By Anita Davison

The 'new' statue of Queen Anne outside St Pauls
Behind a statue of Queen Anne on Ludgate Hill, at the base of which a disgruntled Jacobite once scrawled of the woman who took her father’s throne while he still lived: "With her face to the brandy-shop and her back to the church." lies the Cathedral Church of St Paul The Apostle above the River Thames. The statue is not the original, which was described as ‘mean’ and placed there in 1712, the current one was installed in 1885 and is considered a more imposing example.

The full story of this great cathedral is too long to fit here, so I’ll keep this post anecdotal with some of the more interesting facts I could find.

During the construction of the Cathedral of St Paul the reigning monarch, [who could have been Charles II, James II, William III or Queen Anne, no one is quite sure] was taken on a tour by Sir Christopher Wren and commented that the new building was ‘awful, pompous, and artificial’. Strangely, Wren was not insulted, because in the 1600s amusing meant amazing, awful meant awe-inspiring, and artificial meant artistic.

Old St Paul’s - During the era when the centurion, St. Alban was martyred, the Romans demolished a church on top of what is now Ludgate Hill and raised a temple to Diana on its ruins. During the reign of Edward III, a massive quantity of ox-skulls, stag-horns, and boars' tusks, and sacrificial vessels, were exhumed on this site. However, Sir Christopher Wren, during his excavations for the new cathedral in 1675 found no evidence of the goddess Diana.

Old St Pauls After 1561

Established by King Ethelbert and made of wood, the first church was erected in 604 AD, eight years after the first Christian mission under St. Augustine landed in Kent. Home to the first bishop of the East Saxons, Mellitus, it was destroyed by fire, and rebuilt by bishop Erkenwald in 675-85. Vikings destroyed the second St. Paul's in 962, then again in 1087.

In the 12th Century, King Henry I commanded that all material brought up the River Fleet for the cathedral be toll free, and gave Bishop Beaumis rights to all fish caught within the cathedral neighbourhood, as well as the tithes on venison taken in the County of Essex.

The medieval cathedral had a Norman triforium in the nave and a vaulted ceiling, known as "Paul's walk". The cathedral's stained glass included an exquisite Rose window at the east end, and a shrine adorned with gold, silver and precious stones.

Infested with beggars and thieves, “Paul's walk” was also a place to pick up gossip, topical jokes, and even prostitutes. Used as a marketplace during the 1381–1404 tenure of Bishop Braybrooke, he issued an open letter decrying the selling of "wares, as if it were a public market" and "others ... by the instigation of the Devil [using] stones and arrows to bring down the birds, jackdaws and pigeons which nestled in the walls and crevises of the building. Others play at ball ... breaking the beautiful and costly painted windows to the amazement of spectators." and goes on to threaten excommunication to all miscreants. By the 15th century, "News mongers", known as “Paul’s walkers” gathered at the cathedral to pass on the latest news and gossip.

During the reign of Henry VII, a young girl who, going to confess, was importuned by the monk. She escaped him by climbing the stairs of the great clock tower, raised the hammer of the clock bell as it had finished striking twelve, climbed onto the roof and eluded her assailant. The girl accused the monk publicly, which he denied. However she asked if anyone had heard the church bell ring thirteen times on that day, there were many witnesses who said they had heard it, and thus the monk was degraded.

Arthur, Prince of Wales, son of Henry VII, married Catharine of Aragon in St Paul's on November, 1501, although Arthur died five months later, at the age of 15. Richard II, Henry VI and Henry VII lay in state there before their funerals at Westminster Abbey. In Richard II’s case, displaying his body in a public place was to counter rumours that he was still alive. The walls were lined with the tombs of medieval bishops and nobility, a shrine to Erkenwald, Sebbi, King of the East Saxons, and Ethelred the Unready, two Anglo-Saxon kings were buried inside.

Prince Arthur

John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster, John Beauchamp, 3rd Baron Beauchamp de Somerset, also had monuments within the cathedral, and later  the tombs of the Crown minister Nicholas Bacon, the poet, courtier and soldier Sir Philip Sidney.

In the Tudor period an open-air pulpit called “Paul's Cross” was established by the south wall, where crowds gathered to hear controversial Protestant sermons. In 1549 the preachers incited a mob who rampaged through the interior, destroying the high altar and ravaging the tombs and wall-hangings.

Under Henry VIII and Edward VI, the Dissolution of the Monasteries and Chantries Acts led to the destruction of interior ornamentation and the cloisters, which were seized by the Crown and sold as shops and rental properties, especially to printers and booksellers, who were often Puritans.

On 4 June 1561 the spire caught fire and crashed through the nave roof, apparently struck by lightning. The bells melted and the lead covering the wooden spire "poured down like lava upon the roof", destroying it. Protestants and Catholics alike took this as a sign of God's displeasure. Queen Elizabeth contributed towards the cost of repairs as did the Bishop of London, Edmund Grindal, although the spire was never rebuilt. Only fifty years after the rebuilding, the roof was in a dangerous condition.

In May 1606 St. Paul's Churchyard saw the hanging of Father Garnet, one of the Gunpowder Plot conspirators. King James I appointed England's first classical architect, Inigo Jones, to restore the building. Jones added a classical-style portico to the cathedral's west front in the 1630s.

The poet John Donne, who coined the phrases ‘No man is an island’ and ‘For whom the bell tolls’, was dean of St Paul’s. He died in 1631, having posed for his own memorial statue where he is depicted wearing a shroud, ‘So God will recognise me’ and standing on a Greek urn. The statue survived the Great Fire as it was moved to safety and reinstated in the new cathedral – traces of scorching still exist on the urn.

John Evelyn
During the Civil Wars, Parliamentary troops used the nave as cavalry barracks, and it was rumoured that Cromwell had considered giving the building to London's returning Jewish community as a synagogue in the 1650’s.

Sir Christopher Wren - In 1660, Charles II appointed Christopher Wren to undertake major repairs to the building, but his work had just begun when, on September 4, 1666, fire broke out in a bakehouse in Pudding Lane. Fanned by a fierce wind, the fire raged for four days and spread through the close-packed streets of London. The city’s most valuable documents and treasures were taken to St Pauls for safety, but the intensity of the blaze melted the lead roof and the building collapsed in on itself.

Samuel Pepys recalls the fire in his diary:

Up by five o'clock, and blessed be God! find all well, and by water to Paul's Wharf. Walked thence and saw all the town burned, and a miserable sight of Paul's Church, with all the roof fallen, and the body of the choir fallen into St. Faith's; Paul's School also, Ludgate, and Fleet Street.

John Evelyn's account is more wordy:

September 3rd – I went and saw the whole south part of the City burning from Cheapeside to the Thames, and ... was now taking hold of St. Paule's Church, to which the scaffolds contributed exceedingly.

September 7th – I went this morning on foote from White-hall as far as London Bridge, thro' the late Fleete-streete, Ludgate Hill, by St. Paules ... At my returne I was infinitely concern'd to find that goodly Church St. Paules now a sad ruine, and that beautiful portico ... now rent in pieces, flakes of vast stone split asunder, and nothing now remaining intire but the inscription in the architrave, shewing by whom it was built, which had not one letter of it defac'd. It was astonishing to see what immense stones the heate had in a manner calcin'd, so that all the ornaments, columns, freezes, capitals, and projectures of massie Portland-stone flew off, even to the very roofe, where a sheet of lead covering a great space (no less than six akers by measure) was totally mealted; the ruines of the vaulted roofe falling broke into St. Faith's, which being fill'd with the magazines of bookes belonging to the Stationers, and carried thither for safety, they were all consum'd, burning for a weeke following. It is also observable that the lead over the altar at the East end was untouch'd, and among the divers monuments, the body of one Bishop remain'd intire. Thus lay in ashes that most venerable Church, one of the most antient pieces of early piety in the Christian world.

King Charles’ ‘tastes and vices’ were all French, and he had invited Perrault, one of the designers of the Louvre to design the new building. However, Charles chose Wren, who, with his friend John Evelyn, had prepared a new plan for turning London into a series of wide avenues and open piazzas. Charles approved but lacked the money to carry them out, and impatient Londoners had already begun rebuilding along the old street patterns. Instead, the king gave Wren the commission to rebuild the city churches with money raised via a tax levied on coal arriving at the port of London.

Charles II offered an annual contribution of £1,000 for the rebuilding of the cathedral, but this was rarely paid. Some claiming the money went to pay Nell Gwynne's losses at the gambling-table, or to feed the Duchess of Portsmouth's lap-dogs.

New St Paul’s  - In 1668, demolition of the Old Cathedral proved difficult as the stonework had been bonded together by molten lead, and some of the surviving walls were dangerously unstable. One side of the central tower was still 60 meters high, so Wren used gunpowder to remove them. A neglected charge exploded, sending a large stone through a window of a nearby building that almost hit a group of women working inside. Then a passer-by was killed by flying stones, and Wren was ordered to stop the blasting, so he resorted to using a battering ram.

While digging the foundations, Wren excavated to a depth of about twenty feet. He found Saxon stone coffins and tombs lined with slabs of chalk, together with ivory and box-wood skewers used to fasten the Saxons' woollen shrouds.  On the Cheapside corner of the churchyard lay Roman funeral urns and fragments of sacrificial vessels of Samian.

When a stone from the site was found marked with the Latin inscription "resurgam", "I shall rise again". Wren had the word inscribed on the pediment of the south door, beneath a carved phoenix.

Because so much Portland stone was needed, King Charles II issued a decree that none could be removed from that island on the south coast for any purpose other than the construction of St. Paul’s without Wren’s permission. Portland stone is soft, and suitable for carving, but it’s also vulnerable to staining by salt water, so conveying it along the coat was a tricky business.

Wren’s other assistants were Master woodcarver, Grinling Gibbons who made the choir stalls, the sanctuary gates added by wrought-iron genius Jean Tijou, who was also responsible for those at Hampton Court Palace.
From 1684, Wren’s protégé, Nicholas Hawksmoor was Wren's principal assistant.

John Evelyn and Grinling Gibbons

Wren's friend and associate of the Royal Society, Robert Hooke, was appointed as one of three surveyors. He had experimented with sound-amplification and had already invented an ear trumpet to assist hearing and that sound could travel along a wire. Hooke designed and built the Monument to The Great Fire, as well as Burlington House, Bethlam Hospital, and The Royal College of Physicians. He designed the main room at Montague House in a proportion so that a whisper uttered at a wall one side would be heard at the other. Is it a coincidence then, that there is a Whispering Gallery at St Pauls?

In the early 1680’s, Charles II fell out with Henry Compton, Bishop of London over the Exclusion of the Duke of York from the line of succession due to his conversion to Catholicism. The building work on the cathedral halted, and the site remained untouched at one stage for over two years.

When James II came to the throne and approved of Wren’s catholic influenced style, funding was restored again. However, to prevent further criticism, Wren had hoardings erected all around the building so his work couldn’t be seen.

On 2 December 1697, the new cathedral was consecrated for use on the Thanksgiving Day for the Peace of Ryswick which humbled France and confirmed William III permanently on the throne. Against his will, the king was persuaded to stay at home by his courtiers, who dreaded armed Jacobites hiding among the crowds. Bishop Compton, who, dressed as a trooper, gave the sermon. Compton preached the sermon and the first regular service was held on the following Sunday.

In 1710, Wren's son and the body of Freemasons laid the highest stone of the lantern of the cupola. Wren's old friends were dead, and his enemies compelled him to pile the organ on the rood screen, though he had intended it to be under the north-east arch of the choir, where it now stands. Wren wanted to use mosaic for internal decoration, which was pronounced too costly, and in 1715, "a whig, low-church dominated committee inspired by a moral Anglican nationalism” gave the painting of the cupola to Hogarth's father-in-law, Sir James Thornhill. 

Sir James Thornhill
An anecdote the cathedral guides like to tell, is of when Thornhill had finished touching up one of the heads of the apostles and was about to step back on the wooden scaffold to get a better view of his brushwork. One of his friends was talking to him and Sir James continued to move backwards, forgetting that the scaffold had no handrails along the side.

Seeing that Thornhill was about to step into space, his friend grabbed a paint-filled brush and covered his delicate brushwork. Horrified, Sir James threw himself forward from the edge of the scaffold to save the painting from his friend’s apparently insane actions.

Truth or legend? Who knows, but it’s a lovely story and the painting on the dome are exquisite.

In 1718 a violent pamphlet appeared, accusing Wren's head workmen of pilfering timber and cracking the bells, which Wren proved to be malicious and untrue. They also accused Wren or his assistant of corruption and withheld part of his salary until the work was completed. Wren covered the cupola with lead when the committee were for more expensive copper and wrangled over the iron railings for the churchyard.

At eighty-six years old, and in the forty-ninth year of office, he was dismissed from his post of Surveyor of Public Works. The Hanoverian Court, hostile to all who had served the Stuarts, appointed William Benson, who erected a monument to John Milton in Westminster Abbey.

Wren retired to his house at Hampton Court, visiting St Pauls once a year to remind himself of his greatest achievement. He died in 1723, aged ninety-one and his grave was the first to be sunk inside his cathedral. His tomb lies beneath a Latin inscription that translates; "Reader, if you seek his memorial, look about you".

Queen Anne went seven times to St. Paul's to commemorate victories over France or Spain. Marlborough's triumph in the Low Countries in 1702, and Rooke's destruction of the Spanish fleet at Vigo. In 1704, the victory of Blenheim, in 1705, the forcing of the French lines at Tirlemont; in 1706, the battle of Ramillies and Lord Peterborough's successes in Spain; in 1707, more triumphs; in 1708, the battle of Oudenarde; and in 1713, the Peace of Utrecht, when the Queen was unable to attend. On this last day the charity children of London (4,000 in number) first attended outside the church.

Opinions of Wren's cathedral differed, with some loving it: Without, within, below, above, the eye / Is filled with unrestrained delight while others hated it: ...There was an air of Popery about the gilded capitals, the heavy arches...They were unfamiliar, un-English...

Memorials - These include several lists of servicemen who died in action, the most recent being the Gulf War. Florence Nightingale, J. M. W. Turner, Hubert Parry, T. E. Lawrence and Sir Alexander Fleming as well as  lists of the Bishops and cathedral Deans for the last thousand years. Other memorials to famous Britons include General Gordon, Earl Kitchener, Sir Joshua Reynolds, JMW Turner, and Samuel Johnson, who wrote: “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life". Also the funerals of Sir Winston Churchill, George Mallory and Baroness Thatcher were held in the cathedral.

The cathedral was struck by bombs during the Blitz  in October 1940 and April 1941. In September 1940 a time-delayed bomb was successfully defused by a bomb disposal detachment of Royal Engineers. Later detonated in a remote location, the bomb left a 100 ft crater, so had it detonated, it would have totally destroyed the cathedral.

Reports of the strikes were played down by the papers as ‘near misses’ though on one occasion the dome was pierced leaving the high altar in ruin. Sir Winston Churchill telephoned the Guildhall during the air raid insisting all fire-fighting resources be directed at St Paul's. “The cathedral must be saved, damage to the fabric would sap the morale of the country."

The American Chapel is dedicated to the 28,000 US citizens stationed in the UK who died in WWII, while outside the cathedral's south wall is a memorial to the 32,000 Londoners killed in the same war. The story of the how the American chapel came about is worth reading-here

Ghosts - An apparition of an elderly clergyman accompanied by a high-pitched, tuneless whistling sound is said to haunt All Souls' Chapel, at the cathedral’s west end. In 1925 this chapel was dedicated to the memory of Field Marshal Lord Kitchener and to servicemen killed during the First World War. As it was being redesigned workmen discovered a small door concealed in the stonework, at the exact spot where the spectral clergyman would always fade into the wall.

On the accession of George I in 1715 the new king, princes, and princesses went in state to St. Paul's. Seventy years later,  in April, 1789, George III came to thank God for his temporary recovery from insanity with Queen Charlotte, the Prince of Wales, and the Duke of York Bishop Porteous preached the sermon, and 6,000 charity children joined in the service.

In 1797, King George and Horatio Nelson attended a thanksgiving for Lord Duncan's and Lord Howe's naval victories; French, Spanish, and Dutch flags waved above the procession.

In 1806, the Prince of Wales and all his brothers led a procession of nearly 8,000 soldiers for Nelson’s funeral. His coffin was made from a mast of the L'Orient—a vessel blown up at the battle of the Nile, and presented to Nelson by his friend, the captain of the Swiftsure. Nelson's flag was to have been placed over the coffin, but as it was about to be lowered, the sailors who had borne it, tore it in pieces, for relics. His black sarcophagus was originally intended for Cardinal Wolsey, and was also considered for Henry VIII.

The Duke of Wellington is buried in the crypt beside his magnificent funeral carriage, his statue astride his horse "Copenhagen". Objections to the notion of having a horse in the church prevented its installation until 1912.

December 1810 saw the cathedral’s only robbery where thieves broke open nine doors to get to the plate repository, valued at above £2,000 Chased silver-gilt covers of the large (1640) Bible, chalices, plates, tankards, and candlesticks were never recovered.

In June 2012, a new statue of John Donne was unveiled outside the cathedral


For some wonderful images of the cathedral interior – Click the links below

Wanderstories and Tipter

Anita Davison is a Historical Fiction Author whose latest release, ‘Royalist Rebel’ a biographical novel set in 17th Century England, is released by Claymore Books under the name Anita Seymour