Monument to Charles Marquis Cornwallis (1738-1805), by J.C.F. Rossi, 1811 (Ref. No. 2490).
In churches and cathedrals, a ‘monument’ is a memorial to a person who has died. Our Cathedral houses over 500 monuments – from dramatic marble statues and imposing tombs to smaller carvings and statues.
Kings, knights and merchants
Pre-Fire St Paul’s was the burial place of many remarkable soldiers, diplomats and courtiers as well as Bishops, Deans and Mayors of London.
As a prestigious resting place where monarchs, parliaments and City officials came to worship, it was natural that people who had served the nation at high rank – or who had sufficient funds – wished to be buried and commemorated in the Cathedral.
The strong links between Church, City and State meant those who enjoyed political success or royal favour were most likely to be permitted. Famous figures included King Ethelred (King of Wessex in the 800s), John of Gaunt (a well-connected prince and military leader, and one of the richest men of the 1300s), Sir Philip Sidney (Elizabethan poet and scholar) and Sir Francis Walsingham (Queen Elizabeth’s principal secretary and so-called “spymaster”). Their tombs and effigies were large and elaborate and their histories were recorded by William Dugdale.
These monuments were destroyed in the Great Fire. The only remaining complete effigy from before the fire is the statue of John Donne, which can be found in the Dean’s Aisle.
Monument to Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), red and white marble and alabaster by G. A. Walker, 1916.
After the Great Fire of London, Christopher Wren’s design for a new Cathedral did not allow for monuments and it was nearly 100 years after the building was finished that memorials arrived. The example of pre-fire St Paul’s, popular demand and a desire to influence what and who was celebrated by the nation all helped to restart memorialisation in the Cathedral.
The first monument to be added to the Cathedral floor was for the philanthropist John Howard.
Howard was a prison reformer, and his writings on the state of prisons helped to stoke public outrage and push legislators to reform the appalling conditions prisoners were held in. Howard’s monument pointed towards a new more meritocratic selection process. However, after the addition of the writer Samuel Johnson and artist Joshua Reynolds, parliament became involved in choosing who would be commemorated and 33 state-sponsored monuments were added.
The context of our monuments
The proliferation of monuments in St Paul’s coincided with a period when the British Empire expanded dramatically, and many of the monuments reflect the attitudes and individuals who enabled the country’s colonial pursuits.
Those chosen to be remembered represent the values of their time, many of whom may not have been memorialised if we were choosing today. In recent years St Paul’s Cathedral in partnership with the Department of the History of Art from the University of York, has worked on a project called 50 monuments in 50 voices which showcases individual responses to 50 monuments from artists, writers, musicians, theologians and academics.
Book: Monuments of St Paul's Cathedral
St Paul's is home to some of the finest sculptures by the foremost artists of the 19th century. Among those represented on memorials around the Cathedral are gaiants of the arts, political and militart figures, and a range of other men and women of national importance, from Admiral Nelson to Florence Nightingale.
This book explore the individual histories of these monuments, which are an historical register of 19th century attitudes, giving them particular piquancy in the light of current conversations about national identity and values.