As mentioned earlier, there are several memorials to the Great Fire of London at St Paul’s Cathedral – we’ve already mentioned one of them, the Resurgam, which can be found on the south side of the cathedral’s exterior.
Another can be found in a monument which actually commemorates the poet and priest, John Donne, a dean of St Paul’s who died in 1631 (incidentally, it’s not the only place he’s commemorated – there’s also a bronze bust of him outside the cathedral, placed there in 2012).
The marble effigy inside the cathedral, however, is significant because, erected within 18 months of his death, it is among the few monuments to survive the Great Fire of London. Located in the south quire aisle, the effigy, the work of Nicholas Stone, depicts Donne in his funeral shroud (he apparently posed for it while still alive, wrapped in a sheet).
The effigy was apparently saved by the fact that when the fire raged through the cathedral, it fell into the crypt. And, in a poignant reminder of the fire’s destructive power, if you look closely at the base you can still see scorch marks from the blaze.
It lay in the crypt among other remains of the Great Fire until the late 19th century when it was recovered and restored to its place in the cathedral above in a position close to where it had formerly stood in the Old Cathedral.
PICTURE: Victor Keegan/Flickr/CC BY 2.0/image cropped and lightened.
Located in the north-east corner of the churchyard of St Paul’s Cathedral, St Paul’s Cross – also known simply as Paul’s Cross – was a large free-standing cross which served as an open-air pulpit for at least 500 years.
The history of the Cross goes back to at least the 12th century and it long served as a public gathering place for Londoners to hear sermons or matters of public importance. King Henry III met Londoners here in 1259 so they could swear their allegiance, people like 15th century chaplain Richard Walker appeared here to plead guilty for crimes against the church (in his case to charges of sorcery) and it was here that William Tyndale’s testaments were burnt in the 16th century.
Conversely, it was also from here that the English Reformation was preached (there’s a painting in the Houses of Parliament of King Edward VI listening to a sermon preached from the Cross by reformist Bishop Latimer). It has been said that if all the sermons preached here had been collected, they would effectively make a history of the Church of England.
While it was a simpler structure in its earlier years, in the late 15th century, the then Bishop of London, Thomas Kempe, ordered the construction of a ‘preaching station’ on the site. It was an elevated small wooden structure with a lead roof topped by a cross under which a preacher and a couple of others could stand.
The cross and pulpit were destroyed during the English Civil War in 1643.
These days there’s a plaque marking the original site of the cross (above). In 1910, the St Paul’s Cross Memorial – a column topped with a gilt statue of St Paul designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield (pictured top), was installed nearby (as ordered by the will of HC Richards, according to a plaque on the site) and remains there today.
The Virtual Pauls Cross website, led by Professor John N Wall of North Carolina State University in the US, reconstructs what the site would have looked like when John Donne gave his Gunpowder Day sermon on 5th November, 1622.
A new bust of priest and poet John Donne was unveiled outside St Paul’s Cathedral earlier this year. Donne was made Dean of St Paul’s in 1621, a position he held until his death 10 years later. He was subsequently buried in Old St Paul’s Cathedral and a memorial to him – a likeness apparently based on a drawing of him in his shroud – was the only monument to survive the Great Fire of London in 1666. It’s still inside the cathedral. The new bronze bust, located in the garden to the south of the cathedral, was the work of artist Nigel Boonham and has Donne looking east towards his birth place in nearby Bread Street. The text “Hence is’t, that I am carried towards the West/This day, when my Soul’s form bends to the East” – taken from the poem Good-Friday, 1613, Riding Westward – is inscribed underneath the bust. Commissioned by the City of London, the sculpture was unveiled in June by the artist and Professor Peter McCullough, one of the cathedral’s Lay Canons. For more on St Paul’s, see www.stpauls.co.uk. PICTURE: Graham Lacdao / The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral.