St. Paul’s Cathedral Visual Model by Josh Stephens, rendering by Austin Corriher

This section of the website is devoted to St Paul’s Cathedral and its surrounding Churchyard as physical objects with histories of construction and function and the Cathedral as an institution within the structure of the Church of England. 

We explore the history of the Cathedral building and its Churchyard, and locate them in the story of the English Reformation. We also describe the place a cathedral had in the organizational structure of the Church of England and the Diocese of London. 

Our point of reference is the decade between 1621 to 1631, when John Donne was Dean of the Cathedral, a period roughly 60 years after the Elizabethan Settlement of Religion (1559) gave enduring form and substance to the post-Reformation Church of England.

While the early years of the English Reformation had seen conflict over the kind of Reformation the English Reformation would be, by 1621 the new had become a habitual part of daily life. People had become familiar with the language and structure of reformed public worship and had developed a sense of the kind of religious tradition the Church of England was coming to be.

The story of St Paul’s Cathedral in the late 16th century and early 17th centuries mirrors this narrative. The Cathedral’s responses to the Injunctions of 15XX suggest an organization that is unsure about its purpose and therefore careless in the way it went about the work of the Cathedral. We hear of Choristers who wear dirty vestments and come late to the services, seemingly more interested in collecting spur money from the men of fashion who flocked to display themselves in their finery in the nave than in singing Divine Service. The organ seems not to be in the best of repair. And so forth. 

By the Laudian Visitation in the mid-1620’s, however, we get the sense that organizationally things had been put right, for the work of the Cathedral seems to have been done decently and in good order for some time. The English priest and poet George Herbert — who used to slip away from his post as rector of St Andrew’s Church, Bemerton, to attend choral services at nearby Salisbury Cathedral — might have been describing St Paul’s as well when he celebrated the Church of England as neither too high nor too low, but just right

British Church

I joy, dear mother, when I view
Thy perfect lineaments, and hue
Both sweet and bright.
Beauty in thee takes up her place,
And dates her letters from thy face,
When she doth write.

A fine aspect in fit array,
Neither too mean nor yet too gay,
Shows who is best.
Outlandish looks may not compare,
For all they either painted are,
Or else undress’d.

She on the hills which wantonly
Allureth all, in hope to be
By her preferr’d,
Hath kiss’d so long her painted shrines,
That ev’n her face by kissing shines,
For her reward.

She in the valley is so shy
Of dressing, that her hair doth lie
About her ears;
While she avoids her neighbour’s pride,
She wholly goes on th’ other side,
And nothing wears.

But, dearest mother, what those miss,
The mean, thy praise and glory is
And long may be.
Blessed be God, whose love it was
To double-moat thee with his grace,
And none but thee.