June 4 – Lightning! Fire! Church Steeple Destroyed!

Posted on June 4, 2018

I'm lucky enough to say that I've been to St. Paul's Cathedral in London. And it doesn't look like this: 

What I didn't realize, as I read that St. Paul's steeple burned down on this date in 1561, was that there was a St. Paul's Cathedral built in London over the course of centuries from 1087 to 1314....an entirely different St. Paul's than the one I had visited, which was built on the same spot as "Old St. Paul's Cathedral."

This is the one I visited:


Old St. Paul's was actually the fourth Christian church built on that site (so the St. Paul's that exists now is the fifth!), and when it was built it was considered one of the longest churches in the world, with one of the tallest spires in the world.

This spire is not, of course, on
Saint Paul's, but as I said in the
article, a lot of towns have church
steeples and spires as their
highest point - and so steeple
or spire lightning strikes and fires
were pretty common before
the adoption of lightning rods!
Do you know what lightning tends to strike? The highest point. So it's not terribly surprising that lightning sometimes strikes church spires. In this case, the lightning caused the spire to catch fire and crash through the nave roof. It was hot enough that the cathedral bells melted and "poured down like lava." 

What do you do when part of a building is destroyed? You fix it, of course. Queen Elizabeth was England's ruler at that time, and she contributed money toward the repairs, but apparently the re-roofing job was not done very well, and the spire wasn't rebuilt at all. Just 50 years later, the new roof was looking dangerous.
It doesn't look nearly as nice without the spire, does it?

At that point King James I was in charge. He appointed architect Inigo Jones to restore the building, but I gather that Jones didn't fix all of the problems. Instead, his main
contribution seemed to be adding a Classical-style portico that didn't really go with the rest of the architecture.

The English Civil War
was the noble, pro-king
Royalists against....
...the commoners,
the Parliamentarians
who were often called
the Roundheads.
And then the Civil War broke out. I am not (of course) talking about the American Civil War, but rather the English one (1642 - 1651). During the war, the nave was used as a sort of horse barn, many old documents were lost or destroyed, and the ruler after the war, Oliver Cromwell, was rumored to be planning to give the Old St. Paul's to the Jewish community, to be used as a synagogue.

But...Cromwell died, the monarchy was restored, and Sir Christopher Wren was appointed to restore the cathedral as well. He was supposed to make the cathedral safe again AND to make it match better with Jones's portico, but Wren said that the whole cathedral should be demolished and a new cathedral built. He pointed out that the original building wasn't built all that well and that the repairs were very poorly done.

Many people - clergy and London citizens alike - disagreed with the idea of demolishing the Old St. Paul's and starting from scratch, but then the Great Fire of London broke out, in 1666, and way more of the church burned than in that spire fire a century before.

So...Wren got his way. The old cathedral was demolished, Wren had a free hand to design the cathedral from the ground up, and he created a masterpiece...

...that miraculously lasted all through the German bombings of World War II! 

Londoners found St. Paul's to be a beacon of hope as the Nazi blitz went on and on...

St. Paul's ended the war with only slight damage. And it is a really cool place to visit even today!

Also on this date:

1 comment:

  1. This is lovely!!! Beautiful piece as usual... I thoroughly enjoyed the pictures, the perspectives, but especially the descriptions and narratives...
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