Wren's St Paul's Cathedral is one of the dominant images of tourist London. The religious history of the site, however, goes back to the very arrival of Christianity in England. Sitting atop one of the two hills of ancient London it has long gazed down on the doings of men and women. Few definitive histories of St. Paul's have been written but one of the most "delightful" is that penned by Dean H H Milman in the 1860s. Here we present his great work for the enjoyment of the modern age. London under Richard I ws a tumult which came to a head with the vicious execution of the firebrand William Fitz Osbert. The arrival if King John brought terrible times for the church, culminating in the Interdict that shut all the churches and silenced all the bells of London. The terrible silence ended when John humbled himself as the vassal of the Pope in St Paul's, as the Archbishop of Canterbury groaned aloud. Louis of France was invited to take the crown and restore England's sovereignity. He was welcomed with a magnificent Mass at St. Paul's.
The Annals of St Paul's Cathedral
by Henry Hart Millman D.D.
LATE DEAN OF S. PAUL'S
S. Paul's under the Normans
Paul's Cross – Interdict on London – King John in St. Paul's
During the reign of Richard I. there were terrible tumults in the city of London. It was a strife between the rich and the poor. The poor complained of the unjust and unequal distribution of certain burthens, whether of taxation by the crown or the municipality, or the obligation to discharge certain onerous offices. William Fitz Osbert was the demagogue of the day. Paul's Cross was the rostrum from whence he poured forth his inflammatory harangues. He is said to have risen up against the dignity of the Crown, and to have administered unlawful oaths to his followers. The Cathedral was invaded by the rioters; the sacred services frequently disturbed by seditious cries, clamours, and tumults. Fitz Osbert seized the tower of a church, belonging to the Archbishop, probably S. Mary-le-Bow, (still a peculiar of Canterbury), and stood out an obstinate siege. Being heavily pressed he set fire to the church, dedicated to the Virgin. The holy building was burned to the ground, an awful warning to the neighbouring Cathedral. Fitz Osbert was dragged out of the ruins, conveyed to the Tower, and, as a terror to the rest, drawn "naked through the City, and burned alive in chains with some of his followers. The poor were obliged to give hostages for their peaceable conduct, and the City and Cathedral were at rest." Paul's Cross was silent for many years.
Radulph de Diceto built the Deanery of S. Paul's, inhabited after him by many men of letters: before the Reformation by the admirable Colet, who may compensate for many names; after the Reformation, by Alexander Nowell, Donne, Sancroft, who rebuilt the mansion after the fire, Stillingfleet, Tillotson, W. Sherlock, Butler, Seeker, Newton, Van Mildert, Copleston. As a lover of letters, I might perhaps, without presumption, add another name.
The episcopate of Richard de Ely was nearly commensurate with the reign of Richard Ceeur de Lion. Bishop Richard conferred on the school of S. Paul's the tithes of his manors of Fulham, and Horsey. The man of letters patronised men of letters. He appointed the celebrated Peter of Blois, Archdeacon of London. A barren honour! for Peter writes to the Pope that he must learn to live, "like a dragon,' on wind. Though London had 40,000 inhabitants and 120 churches, he could obtain neither tithes, first-fruits, nor offerings. The episcopate of Richard de Ely was on the whole as peaceful as the reign of King Richard was warlike and adventurous.
His successor, a Norman, WILLIAM DE SANTA MARIA, was cast on darker and more troubled times in Church and State,-the reign of King John. William de Santa Maria was appointed by Richard just before his death. He had been Canon of York, Dean of S. Martin's in London, and Canon of S. Paul's' The first years of his episcopate passed smoothly on.
In 1208 Bishop William was summoned to read the Papal Interdict against the whole realm of England. He obeyed the mandate, and London with the rest of the kingdom heard the fearful office, which closed all the churches of the land to the devout worshippers, and deprived them of the prayers, the masses, all the spiritual blessings and privileges of the Church. Infants lay unbaptized, except with some hasty and imperfect ceremony. Joyless marriages were hurriedly performed in the church porch; the dying yearned in vain for anointment with the blessed oil and for the Holy Eucharist; the dead were buried in unconsecrated ground. We long for some contemporary account of the effect on the public mind, of the workings on the heart of the individual Christian, produced by that sudden and total abruption, as it seemed to be, of all intercourse between the soul of man and the divine Ruler or the merciful Redeemer. In London, then comparatively a narrow and noiseless city, how oppressive, how terrible the silence, when day after day the bells of S. Paul's ceased to toll, as they were wont to do, for the frequent service; and the few citizens passed by, or pressed in vain, against the sullenly and inexorably closed doors of the silent church. Unfortunately from sorrow or from awe, or from some other cause, it may have been his age, our pious-Dean of S. Paul's breaks off his chronicle before the interdict, and so do almost all the other annalists of the day. [Note: Radulph de Diceto was living, according to Newcourt, in 1210; but his history closes with the accession of King John. Other chroniclers, as Dr. Lingard observes, come to an end at the same time-Brompton, Hoveden, etc. ]
But though the interdict was thus remorselessly laid on the realm, the whole guiltless and unoffending realm, over the one guilty rebel against the Church, with a strange and capricious delay, hung, threatening but unuttered, the personal ban. The godless John alone remained unsmitten, untouched. The Bishop of London, who, without resistance, had pronounced the fatal ban against his whole diocese, against the citizens of London, had fears or conscientious scruples about the sentence against the King. Bishop William de Santa Maria went into self-inflicted exile on the Continent for five years. [Note: Newcourt (Repertorium), a writer who is in general careful about his authorities, writes: "This our Bishop refused, though commanded, to excommunicate the King." According to Paris, however, Santa Maria was already on the Continent, and left the excommunication of the King to the Clergy.]
But neither his scruples nor his self-banishment prevailed against the vengeance of the King. He and his brother Bishops, Ely and Worcester, it is said, had dared to remonstrate against the stubborn obstinacy of John. On their flight the King in his fury began a fierce persecution of Clergy. [Note: A.D. 1209.] The sheriffs were ordered to confiscate all the revenues of refractory Bishops and abbeys. "The clergy might go and complain to their protector, the Pope." No doubt the estates of the Bishop of London, with the rest, were seized into the King's hands. We are informed that the demolition of the Bishop's castle at Stortford was specially commanded. The barns of the Clergy were shut up; their contents confiscated to the treasury. The concubines of the Clergy were exposed to every insult and ill-usage. So writes Paris, who bitterly adds, that the Bishops, London among them, instead of standing up boldly in defence of their order, were living abroad in luxurious abundance.
Bishop William was with Stephen Langton in his journey to Rome, and, with Langton, published the sentence of deposition against King John.
William of London returned to England with Stephen Langton the Primate. To him, on the submission of John, had been awarded 750 pounds, out of the indemnity to the Bishops for their losses during their exile. With Langton and his brother Bishops he met the repentant King (of the sincerity of John's repentance 'twere well to say nothing), who threw himself at their feet, and implored their mercy on himself and the realm of England. The King received absolution, and swore on the Gospels fidelity to the laws of England, and fidelity to the Pope, Innocent III. After mass, in token of the general reconciliation, there was a great banquet, at which met the King and the Bishops. Short-lived peace! [Note: July 20, 1213.]
There can be little doubt that the Bishop of London was present at the great assemblage convened, but five weeks later, in the Cathedral of S. Paul. There met the Prelates, Abbots, Deans, Priors, the Barons of England. After some lighter business, Langton led aside some of the more distinguished Barons and Prelates, displayed the old Charter of Henry I., and solemnly enjoined them to stand firm for the liberties of England, and pledged himself with equal solemnity to their support.
This convention in S. Paul's was the prelude to that more memorable scene at Runnymede. [Note: The name of William, Bishop of London, appears with that of the Primate and the Archbishop of Dublin, and other prelates at the commencement of the Charter.]
If William of London was present by the side of Langton, in the assembly which led to that glorious event, and at the event itself (his signature appears to the Great Charter), we would willingly suppose him, we fear against probability, absent from the next remarkable scene in his Church, ignominious, beyond past and future example in England.
The papal policy had suddenly veered round. Pope Innocent III., the majestic antagonist of the daring but pusillanimous John, and so, unconsciously, the main support of the liberties of England, had become the ally of the tyrant who humbled himself to be his vassal. The Pope was now the haughty enemy of the Primate Langton, who with the Barons of England was standing nobly, dauntlessly, and inflexibly for their freedom. S. Paul's was to witness the ratification and completion of that disgraceful scene which had taken place in the Templars Church at Dover.
The Legate of the Pope, the Cardinal Nicolas, Bishop of Tusculum, had already, some time before, released the kingdom from the interdict. The same legate, in the same Cathedral, before the altar of S. Paul, received the cession of the kingdom as a fief of the Holy See. The King did homage as vassal of the Pope; that not famous, but most atrocious act of submission, so writes indignant Paris; the Archbishop of Canterbury in vain protesting, privately and in public, and not suppressing his deep groans during the ceremony. Was William of London on his throne? Did he with the Archbishop groan aloud?
Louis of France was received and welcomed by a magnificent mass at S. Paul's, sung by excommunicated Prelates and Priests: he received the homage of the citizens of London, to whom he promised to recover to the realm all that had been lost by the pusillanimity of John.