Cathedral History Timeline
Foundation, Loss and Reconstruction | Medieval Splendour
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
The first St Paul's is built and consecrated
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.
The third St Paul's built in stone
After more destruction the Cathedral is rebuilt by the Normans
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.
King Richard II's body is brought to St Paul's
King Henry V's body is brought to St Paul's
King Henry VI's body is brought to St Paul's
Katherine of Aragon marries Prince Arthur
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.
St Paul's School is founded
William Tyndale's English Bible is burned
Evil May Day Riots sweep London
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.