Cathedral History Timeline

History
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Cathedral History Timeline

604-1559

Foundation, Loss and Reconstruction | Medieval Splendour


604–1087: Foundation, Loss and Reconstruction
Christianity reached Roman Britain in the second-century AD. A number of Roman artefacts - pots, tiles and glass - have been found in excavations around St Paul’s, however no evidence has emerged that the site of St Paul’s, as once believed, was ever used for a Roman temple. The official withdrawal of Roman administration in 410 AD did not end Christian belief in England but it was to be almost two hundred years before St Paul’s Cathedral was founded. The two names most associated with the establishment of the first St Paul’s are Saint Mellitus and Saint Erkenwald. The former, a monk who arrived in Britain with Saint Augustine on a mission from Rome instigated by Pope Gregory the Great, founded St Paul’s in 604 AD. The latter was the Abbot of Chertsey whose consecration as Bishop of London in 675 AD, following the city’s brief return to paganism, confirmed the return of the Roman Church to London. The earliest Cathedral buildings were relatively short-lived structures, repeatedly damaged by fires and Viking attacks. It was the Cathedral begun in about 1087 AD by Bishop Maurice, Chaplain to William the Conqueror, which would provide the longest standing home for Christian worship on the site to date, surviving for almost six hundred years.

1087–1559: Medieval Splendour
The Cathedral quire was the first part of the new building to be completed in 1148, enabling the Cathedral to function as a place of worship as quickly as possible. Up to the Reformation of the Church in England St Paul’s was a Catholic cathedral in which the celebration of the Mass, the preaching of sermons, the veneration of many saints, shrines, reliquaries, chapels, the observance of Saints’ feast days, masses for the dead said in chantry chapels, a wooden cross known as a rood, and a chapel devoted to The Virgin, all played a part in the liturgical life of the building. A great deal of public activity also took place; although not always welcomed by those looking after the Cathedral, trade, sports and ball games were common and a north/south route through the Cathedral transepts was used as a general thoroughfare. Paul’s Cross was an important feature of Cathedral life from at least the mid thirteenth-century. It was an outdoor covered pulpit from which proclamations were made and leading prelates expounded, often controversially, on theology and politics. It ceased to be used in the 1630s, and stood in the north churchyard until 1642.

The Cathedral School was re-established with new statutes just to the east of Paul’s Cross in 1512 by John Colet (1466–1519) a Renaissance scholar and friend of Erasmus who viewed education as prerequisite for spiritual regeneration.

All of these enterprises, the spiritual, the educational, and the civic, took place within or beside the largest building in medieval England: longer, taller and wider than the present building and richly decorated.

The reign of King Henry VIII saw the beginning of the end for many aspects of the religious life of the building associated with Roman Catholicism. The shrine of St Erkenwald was plundered and waves of iconoclasm followed in which shrines and images were destroyed. The full suppression of Catholic worship and fittings was carried out under Edward VI by the first Protestant Bishop of London, Nicholas Ridley, who was martyred by Mary I's government in 1555. After a restoration of Catholic rites under Mary, settled Protestant worship was confirmed finally under Elizabeth I's first Bishop of London, Edmund Grindal, in 1559.

Featured events from this era

  • 604

    The first St Paul's is built and consecrated

    The first St Paul's is built and consecrated

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    The first wooden church dedicated to St Paul's is built by Mellitus, Bishop of the East Saxons. It burns down in 675 and is rebuilt soon after.

     

  • 962

    The third St Paul's built in stone

    The third St Paul's built in stone

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    The second St Paul's  is destroyed by the Vikings before a new, third church is built in stone.
  • 1087

    After more destruction the Cathedral is rebuilt by the Normans

    After more destruction the Cathedral is rebuilt by the Normans

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    Following another fire the Cathedral is rebuilt by the Normans, who are determined to create the longest and tallest Christian church in the world. It is finished in 1240.

  • 1400

    King Richard II's body is brought to St Paul's

    King Richard II's body is brought to St Paul's

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    Having been starved to death in captivity after his overthrow by Henry IV, King Richard II's body is put on display in St Paul's.
  • 1422

    King Henry V's body is brought to St Paul's

    King Henry V's body is brought to St Paul's

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    Following his death in France, great warrior king, Henry V's body lies in state at St Paul's.
  • 1471

    King Henry VI's body is brought to St Paul's

    King Henry VI's body is brought to St Paul's

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    After his death in captivity at the Tower of London, King Henry VI's body is displayed at St Paul's. He is buried at Chertsey Abbey, before later being re-interred in Windsor.
  • 1501

    Katherine of Aragon marries Prince Arthur

    Katherine of Aragon marries Prince Arthur

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    Heir to the English throne, Prince Arthur, marries Katherine of Aragon at St Paul's. Arthur dies before becoming king and Katherine goes on to marry his younger brother, the future King Henry VIII.

  • 1512

    St Paul's School is founded

    St Paul's School is founded

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    St Paul's School is founded by the Cathedral's Dean, John Colet. Erasmus, a friend of Colet, writes textbooks for the school. Colet is Dean of St Paul's from 1505 until his death. 
  • 1526

    William Tyndale's English Bible is burned

    William Tyndale's English Bible is burned

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    The Bishop of London speaks out against William Tyndale's English translation of the Bible and copies are burned at St Paul's. One of three remaining copies is still housed at the Cathedral.
  • 1517

    Evil May Day Riots sweep London

    Evil May Day Riots sweep London

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    Turning against wealthy foreigners, Londoners riot across the city, with St Paul's at the centre of the troubles as a place where vitriolic speeches are made.