Monuments from Pre-Fire St Paul's

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Monuments from Pre-Fire St Paul's

Written and researched by Elizabeth Kendall


Of the many funerary monuments that once filled medieval St Paul's, only seven survived the Great Fire of  London in 1666. Five remain as fragmentary effigies: Sir Nicholas Bacon (d. 1579), Sir Thomas Heneage (d. 1594) and Lady Anne Heneage (d. 1592), Sir John Wolley (d. 1595) and Elizabeth Wolley (d. 1600), and William Hewitt (d. 1599).  The effigy of John Donne (d. 1631) had a remarkable escape with only the handle of the urn on which he stands  sustaining damage, while Brian Walton’s monument (d. 1661) survives in the form of a tomb slab.

These monuments were situated among hundreds of tombs and burials dating back to the Anglo Saxon period that experienced various forms of destruction and displacement during their existence at St Pauls. Some were removed after the Reformation, such as the monuments in the charnel house chapel and the Pardon Cloister, from where 1,000 cartloads of bones were taken and reburied in Finsbury Fields. Some were seen as a valuable source of building material, such as the tombs deconstructed by Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector of England from 1547 until 1549, who used their remnants in the construction of Somerset House. Many also became damaged during the English Civil War (1642-1651), when the Cathedral was used by Parliamentary troops as cavalry barracks. After the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, Charles II appointed leading architect Christopher Wren in an attempt to restore St Paul’s, a project that was drastically transformed after the extensive damage caused by the Great Fire of 1666.

The sheer number of memorial inscriptions added to the cathedral post-Reformation demonstrates its continual importance as a commemorative site. As well as commemorating individuals, these monuments fulfilled a similar function to the holy shrines which had been present in the pre-Reformation cathedral, by providing an example to visitors of Christian values and virtue, although they were not typically seen as objects of devotion. The intention of a monument is not only for commemoration; it translates to its contemporary viewer a complex language of social relations and cultural codes through the use of space. Henri Lefebvre writes on their transcendental power: ‘Monumentality transcends death, and hence also what is sometimes called the 'death instinct'. As both appearance and reality, this transcendence embeds itself in the monument as its irreducible foundation; the lineaments of atemporality overwhelm anxiety, even - and indeed above all - in funerary monuments. A ne plus ultra of art - form so thoroughly denying meaning that death itself is submerged’.

Due to limited space, when new tombs were installed or the Cathedral’s edifice was developed or refurbished many of the older existing structures would have been moved. This continuous shifting of space reflected the evolving hierarchy of Britain’s influential figures at court and in wider society, whilst at the same time reflecting the enduring representational culture of civic remembrance within London’s Cathedral’s. The size of a monument was an indicator of social standing, and the larger monuments resulted in an increasingly cramped space as time passed. An example of this can be seen in the startling Woolley monument that would have communicated power, rank and wealth to visitors through its ability to dominate valuable sacred floor space between St George’s Chapel and the Lady Chapel in the pre-Fire cathedral. This prime location was negotiated by an annual payment of £10 for the duration of its undisturbed placement, and £4000 was set aside for the classical design. Woolley’s donation secured a prominent situation that was close to a site of religious importance that would have received heavy footfall, ensuring remembrance and intercession.

It is not always evident who commissioned the monuments or who constructed them, as many records were destroyed in the Great Fire, although it is possible to reduce it down to a circle of tomb-makers, masons and brass-workers clustered around St Paul’s, who’s stylistic qualities can be recognised through their other work in the cathedral. In 1658 William Dugdale produced a history of St Paul’s Cathedral, which is an invaluable source for the pre-Fire appearance of the tombs and their placement within the Cathedral. Dugdale’s book is illustrated with evocative engravings by Wenceslaus Hollar that show the placing of thirty-three “notable” tombs and burials (there were far more that were not selected for illustration). It reveals where the seven surviving effigies were placed, and helps to build an understanding of how they were able to survive. These monuments originated from the four western bays of the medieval choir and so they may have been sheltered from falling masonry by the stone choir screen and the crossing piers.

All of the pre-Fire effigies discussed can be viewed in the Cathedral today. The are all located in either the north or south aisles of the Crypt, apart from the statue of John Donne, which can be viewed in the dean’s aisle on the main church floor.


Click on the names below to find out more about their monuments:


Monument of John Donne

Monument of William Hewitt

Monument of William Cokain

Monument of Sir. Nicholas Bacon

Monument of John and Eliza Woolley

Monument of Brian Walton

Monument of Thomas and Anna Heneage


Below are some of the historical publications studied for this project, as well as some key secondary reading:


  • Sir William Dugdale, The History of St Pauls Cathedral in London: from its foundation untill these times: from its foundations untill these times / extracted out of originall charters. Records. Leiger books, and other manuscripts. Beautified with sundry prospects of the church, figures of tombes, and monuments (London, 1658).
  • Henry Holland, Monumenta Sepulchraria Sancti Pauli : The monuments, inscriptions, and epitaphs, of kings, nobles, bishops, and others, buried in the Cathedrall Church of St. Paul, London. Untill this present yeere of Grace, 1614. Together, with the foundation of the Church: and a catalogue of all the bishops of London, from the beginning vntill this present. Neuer before, now with authoritie, published (London, 1614).
  • Henry Holland, Ecclesia Sancti Pauli Illustrata: The monuments, inscriptions, and epitaphs, of kings, nobles, bishops, and others, buried in the Cathedrall Church of St. Paul, London. Together, with the foundation of the sayd church. A catalogue of all the arch bishops and bishops of London, from the beginning. A catalogue also of all the deanes of the same Church: and the monuments continued vntill this present yeere of grace. 1633. A coppy of the Popes pardon, buried with Sr. Gerard Braybrooke, 1390. Together with a preface, touching the decayes and for the repairing of this famous church (London, 1633).
  • Major Payne Fisher, G. Blacker Morgan (ed.), The Tombs, Monuments, &c., visible in S. Paul’s Cathedral (and S. Faith’s Beneath It) Previous to its Destruction by Fire A.D. 1666 (London 1885, originally published 1684).
  • John Weever, Ancient Funeral Monuments with the United Monarchie of Great Britaine, Ireland, and the Islands Adjacent . With the dissolved monasteries therein contained; ... Intermixed and illustrated with variety of historical observations, annotations, and brief notes; ... Whereunto is prefixed, a discourse on funeral monuments, ... By John Weever. (London, 1767, originally published 1631).


  • John Schofield, St Paul’s Cathedral Before Wren (English Heritage, 2011).
  • Derek Keene, Arthur Burns, & Andrew Saint (eds.), St Paul’s: The Cathedral Church of London 604-2004 (Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 2004).



The author would like to thank Susan North from the V&A Museum, London, for her contribution on sixteenth and seventeenth-century fashion.

A range of primary and secondary sources were used for this project. For more information, please contact Collections Manager Simon Carter at