William Dugdale's History of St Paul's

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William Dugdale's History of St Paul's

William Dugdale’s History of St Paul’s
Paper and leather binding
Illustrated by Wenceslas Hollar
Published by Thomas Warren
1658

Several histories of St Paul’s Cathedral have been written but this work by Sir William Dugdale stands out for the fortuitous timing of its publication and the brilliant, evocative illustrations which accompany the text.  The author, an antiquarian fascinated by ecclesiastical history,  was commissioned by Christopher, Lord Hatton to produce the book just ten years before the Great Fire of London destroyed the building.
 
A chance meeting in the street between William Dugdale and the chairman of the Parliamentary Committee responsible for former cathedral lands led to the loan of vast numbers of deeds and other documents which enabled the author to compile his history with great accuracy. The Cathedral he describes was at the heart of London life, a meeting place of the ecclesiastical, public, regal and civic. It witnessed some tumultuous events and some of the most radical developments in British society. Dugdale records the ceremonies which took place, the saint’s days which were celebrated and how the Cathedral spaces were used and adorned.
 
Illustrations by Wenceslas Hollar, an artist from Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic), capture the appearance of the lost building and what he considered to be the  most important tombs then in situ. These include that of St Erkenwald, which stood on the east side of the high altar, famous across Europe and a popular pilgrimage destination.
 
The silhouette of the present cathedral easily dominates the imagination, but this volume, one of the first monographs dedicated to a single building, reminds us through Dugdale’s text and Hollar’s images of the cavernous interior that the one thousand four hundred year old phenomenon, anchored in Christian worship, and situated on Ludgate Hill has outlived four or five such structures and is far more than just it's stone and mortar.
 
Further reading:
St Paul's 604-2004, Ed. Keene, Burns and Saint, Yale Centre for British Art, 2004
St Paul's Before Wren, John Schofield, English Heritage, 2011
 
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