What would it have been like to enter St. Paul’s in the 17th century and hear John Donne preach to his congregation? A new project aims to reconstruct the medieval Cathedral in Virtual Reality to let visitors up close to the famous poet and preacher and hear his words and sermons sing out once more.
“This was not a Red Sea, such as the Jews passed, a sinus, a creek, an arm, an inlet, a gut of sea, but a red ocean that overflowed, and surrounded all parts; and from the depth of this sea God raised them; and such was their resurrection.”
From a sermon preached by John Donne on Easter Day 1624 on Mass Martyrdom.
In: John Donne: The Major Works. Oxford World’s Classics, Ed. by John Carey. Oxford 1990, S. 351
After the fire in 1666, not much was preserved of the interior of the medieval Cathedral of St. Paul in London. One of the few pieces of funeral furniture was the statue built in the memory of John Donne by Nicholas Stone, and based upon a drawing commissioned by the poet himself as he lay dying. It was one of the few to survive the Great Fire of London (1666). However, the cathedral was at that time just as crowded as Westminster with monuments. How would it have been to listen to a sermon of one of England’s greatest poets while standing in the old medieval cathedral?
Now, the cathedral is set to reopen in all its splendour thanks to modern digital technology. Not just the building of the cathedral, however, will reopen in virtual reality. The reconstruction will also allow visitors to experience the lost choir stalls, the rod screen, the pulpit, the altar, and seventeen medieval and Tudor monuments, such as the monument of St. John de Bauchamp († 1388) and that of John of Gaunt and his wife Blanche (erected 1374).
The models are based upon engravings taken by Bohemian etcher Wenceslaus Hollar in 1657 – less than a decade before the Great Fire of London razed the cathedral to the ground. They will sit within a complete rendering of the cathedral and surrounding streets developed by NCSU in collaboration with St Paul’s Cathedral Archaeologist John Schofield.
Ultimately, the complete visual model of the cathedral’s interior and exterior – incorporating the elements created by the illustration team of MOLA (Museum of London Archaeologists) will be combined with a realistic soundscape created by acoustic engineers using CATT acoustic modelling software. This recreation will allow visitors to experience how it may have felt to worship at St Paul’s in 1624. The action will focus on Easter Day 1624, and will include a choral service and sermon known to have been given by Bishop Lancelot Andrewes in the morning and a sermon that John Donne preached in the choir that afternoon.
London’s Medieval St Paul’s Cathedral – destroyed by the Great Fire of London in 1666 – is set to reopen for online visitors thanks to a new virtual reality project led by Professor John Wall of North Carolina State University (NCSU). Funded by the US National Endowment for the Humanities, the Virtual St Paul’s Cathedral Project website will allow visitors to experience sermons much as they would have appeared and sounded back in 1624.
The Illustration Team has created SketchUp 3D models of a number of the cathedral’s lost interior features – the choir stalls and screen, pulpit, altar, and seventeen medieval and Tudor monuments – which will be incorporated into a complete model of the cathedral.
John Donne Delivered a Sermon on Gunpowder Day in 1622. What Did It Sound Like?
By Steve Moyer
In: Humanities. The Magazine of the National Endowment for the Humanities (2014) Vol 35, no. 5,
A forerunner was the reconstruction of the square in fron of the church
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