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Materializing Lost Time and Space: The Virtual St Paul’s Cathedral Project

Published onMar 19, 2024
Materializing Lost Time and Space: The Virtual St Paul’s Cathedral Project

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Figure 1: Virtual St Paul’s Cathedral Website. Image Rendered by Austin Corriher.

The Virtual St Paul’s Cathedral Project (VSPCP) is a collaborative Digital Humanities Project, supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, that enables us to experience services of public worship in England in the post-Reformation period as events that unfold in real time in representations of the spaces in which they originally took place. By combining visual and acoustic digital modelling technology with recreations of worship services scripted by the Book of Common Prayer, the Cathedral Project gives us access to the experience of two full days of specific occasions of worship and preaching in St Paul’s Cathedral in early modern London. The recreations of worship services are in the style of cathedrals and collegiate churches in the early 17th century; that is, they use organs and choirs of men and boys performing biblical readings, canticles, and other liturgical texts provided by the Prayer Book and set to medieval chant or compositions by composers in the employ of the Cathedral and the nearby Chapels Royal.1 The Cathedral Project thus joins a small but growing body of scholarship that, in Emanuela Vai’s words, addresses the “embodied, experiential and multisensory dimensions” of sacred space by demonstrating “the role and relevance of sound in the making and shaping of historical built spaces” (599).

Nevertheless, the Cathedral Project is little more than an exercise in showing off the capabilities of digital modelling unless it inspires and enables new ways of doing scholarly work in the field of early modern English history and culture. To encourage such use, my goals in this essay are fourfold: first, to locate issues in the scholarly conversation about the English Reformation that the Cathedral Project addresses; second, to describe ways that use of this website can change the scholarly conversation about post-Reformation literature and culture; third, to address the question of accuracy in the making of our visual and acoustic models and to describe the uses to which they have been put in constructing the Cathedral Project; and fourth, to describe what aspects of early modern religious life the models make available to us and in what ways and why that is important for our continued development of the field of English Reformation historiography. The Cathedral Project enables us to take a fresh look at worship and preaching in the early modern period through multisensory digital modelling. It gives us the ability to become witnesses of early modern worship and preaching, encountering these interactive exchanges between clergy and their congregations as events that we can experience in real time and in the spaces of their original performance instead of as isolated textual objects. As a result, we will be able to understand more fully how the liturgies scripted by the Book of Common Prayer and sermons preached in the context of their performance created and informed the social, cultural, and religious environment of early modern England.

Figure 2: St Paul’s Cathedral, the West Front. Image Rendered by Austin Corriher.

The Setting

Previously, historians of the reformed Church of England have addressed primarily the theological ebbs and flows of the Reformation period rather than the public life of corporate worship, abstracting ideas from sermons that have been decontextualized from their original performative and liturgical contexts. This, in spite of the fact that the most important official documents of the English Reformation are pragmatic rather than doctrinal, concerned with enabling the organization and scripting of public worship rather than the making of dogmatic statements of belief. These are, of course, the Bible in English, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Books of Homilies, all of which supply essential components of public, corporate worship. The proclamations of faith contained therein are the ancient creeds—the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed—supporting the argument made by John Jewel that the Church of England was more about restoration of the ancient Church than it was about reforming the medieval one (Jewel 17).

Whatever Thomas Cranmer’s theological understanding of the issues posed for England by the Continental Reformation, he chose to enable a Reformation in England chiefly through changes in the liturgical rites and practices of the English, who were required by law to attend worship in their local parish churches, and where clergy were required by law—and by their oath of obedience taken at their ordination—to use the Book of Common Prayer in their work as clergy as well as in their private devotional lives.2 As a result, each instance of public worship in the Church of England became a point of intersection between the scripts for services provided by the Book of Common Prayer, readings from the Bible organized by the Prayer Book Lectionaries, sermons preached in the morning and (sometimes) in the evening, on a particular date and Church Year’s cycle of seasons from Advent through Lent, Easter, and the Sundays after Trinity Sunday.

Figure 3: St Paul’s Cathedral, the North Transept. Image rendered by Austin Corriher.

The Cathedral Project’s models of the Prayer Book in use enable us to understand how all these pieces come together in the practice of public worship, a practice that takes ordered reading of biblical texts together with prayers of praise, confession, affirmation, and celebration, and weaves them into the passing of daily, weekly, and seasonal time. Our chief goal in this project has been to restore digitally the architectural, ceremonial, and liturgical contexts for worship and preaching so they can be encountered as experiences that unfold for us as they did for their original participants, rather than simply as texts to be read out of context in the privacy of one’s study. Digital modelling enables us to experience these texts—and the events they make possible—as embodied events rather than merely cognitive ones, making available to us these basic texts of the English Reformation as part of the lived religion of early modern England.3 We can thus open up for research the distinctive character of post-Reformation lived religion as a series of occasion-specific, deeply contextual, inclusive, participatory interactive performances that take meaning from the liturgy surrounding them and contribute to enabling the overall action, understanding, and enabling of the gathered congregation as it seeks to live out its Christian vocation.

Figure 4: St Paul’s Cathedral, the Bishop’s Chapel. Image rendered by Austin Corriher.

Thanks to the tools of digital modelling, we are, as we view and hear the Project’s models, in the presence of an active congregation engaged in a highly interactive group activity. Throughout our recreations of worship services at St Paul’s, the assembled congregation perform their various parts. The clergy lead prayers, invite participation and declarations, and enable sacramental participation. The congregation responds with “Amens,” with “And with thy spirit,” with “Lord have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law,” with the corporate recitals of the creeds and confessions and recitals of prayers like the Lord's Prayer, with singing along with the Psalms, and with numerous other congregational interactions in the process of the service. The Choir, of course, performs the more complex musical settings, but its members are part of the congregation, too. The sermons whose delivery we have recreated find their original setting in this context of liturgical events and the unfolding of courses of scripture readings, bringing specific Psalms and readings from the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament into relationship with the gathered congregation’s participation in the Prayer Book’s prayers, anthems, professions of faith, and participation in Holy Communion. Most especially, the Cathedral Project makes clear how the practice of the Daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer, with its Lectionary that brought chapters of the Bible into people’s minds and hearts every day, and, perhaps even more significantly, the use of the Book of Psalms in the Offices, ensuring that participants read the Book of Psalms through once a month.4

Figure 5: St Paul’s Cathedral from the Southwest. Image Rendered by Austin Corriher.

The Project achieves its goals by uniting visual models of St Paul’s Cathedral5 and its surrounding structures in Paul’s Churchyard with recreations of specific occasions of daily and festival worship, specifically the celebration of a festive Easter Sunday in 1624 and the observance of an ordinary day in November of 1625. These acoustic recreations combine the Church of England’s required liturgies, with prayers, creeds, scripture readings and sermons performed in the accents of early modern London English and choral and organ music composed by musicians at the Cathedral in the 1620’s and enriched by performances of sermons delivered by Lancelot Andrewes, Bishop of Winchester,6 and John Donne, while he was Dean of St Paul’s (1621–1631.) They also demonstrate differences between styles of ceremonial, from the grandeur of Easter to the relative austerity of an ordinary liturgical day in late November.

Figure 6: St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower Crossing. Image Rendered by Austin Corriher.

Our models represent the English Settlement of Religion of 1559 in its early 17th-century maturity, as the Prayer Book liturgies became familiar and were enriched by musical settings, as the preaching of sermons found its place within the liturgies and their cycles of scripture readings, and as the physical setting moved from predominantly clerical and religious uses to a mixed environment of religious, social, and commercial (chiefly bookdealers) spaces, each with its consequences for pre-existing and new construction as well as for social interaction.7 Together, these models enable us to experience public worship in post-Reformation England as a lived experience, to study worship and preaching as performances, as religious experiences taking place in specific settings, rather than as theological essays read in the privacy of one’s study. They make it possible to explore the consequences of the Reformation in terms of changed arrangement of space inside the cathedral, both physically and in terms of how it was used, noting especially how the spaces inside a 14th century building were transformed to facilitate reformed worship in the 16th and succeeding centuries.

As a result, the Virtual St Paul’s Cathedral Project functions at the intersection of issues raised by emerging fields of study and practice such as data visualization, public history, recreation of soundscapes, material culture studies, historical geography, liturgical studies, and other fields which seek to recover the experience of past time through integrating data about ephemeral and material events and practices into forms of presentation that enable students of history to explore representations of the changing past from multiple perspectives and in simultaneous narratives. The Cathedral Project thus provides us with the experience of this subtle intermingling of the material, the affective, and the imaginative in ways that enable us to understand how early modern worship was conducted and experienced. As a result, we can open up new ways of understanding the lived experience of worship, the function of worship and preaching in the creation and enlivening of the post-Reformation Church of England, and the consequences for English religious life of structured corporate worship and the following of the Prayer Book Lectionaries in bringing scripture into the daily lives of those whose worship was enabled by its rites and ceremonies.

Figure 7: St Paul’s Cathedral, the Choir. Image Rendered by Austin Corriher.

An Odd Work of Grace

While Continental reform movements produced weighty theological tomes that led to more theological debate and further fragmentation of European Christendom, the Cathedral Project demonstrates how the Reformation in England was chiefly manifest in changes to the daily practices by which, as John Booty puts it, “in the parish churches and in the cathedrals the nation was at prayer, the commonwealth was being realized, and God, in whose hands the destinies of all were lodged, was worshipped in spirit and in truth” (Book of Common Prayer xii). This distinctive intention to include the entire population of England, along with the retention of significant features of the medieval Church combined with the introduction of essential marks of reformation, has led one of its bishops to term it rightly as “an odd work of Grace” (Gunter)8 The more one recognizes the extensive list of continuities between the post-Reformation and medieval Churches of England, the more problematic becomes the simplistic identification of the Church of England as Protestant and the clearer it becomes that the definition of the Church of England as Protestant is the result of our restricting ourselves to defining post-Reformation Churches in terms of a Catholic/Protestant dichotomy.9

Figure 8: St Paul’s Cathedral, the Altar. Image Rendered by Austin Corriher.

At its heart is the spirit of Prayer Book worship using the scripts and rhythms of Prayer Book worship perhaps best captured, for both parish and cathedral by Izaac Walton’s account of George Herbert’s conduct of worship at St Andrews, Bemerton:

Mr. Herbert’s own practice[…] was to appear constantly with his wife and his whole family, twice every day at the Church-prayers, in the Chapel, which does almost join to his Parsonage-house. And for the time of his appearing, it was strictly at the canonical hours of ten and four: and then and there he lifted up pure and charitable hands to God in the midst of the congregation. He brought most of his parishioners, and many gentlemen in the neighborhood, constantly to make a part of his congregation twice a day: and some of the meaner sort of his parish did so love and reverence Mr. Herbert, that they would let their plough rest when Mr. Herbert’s Saint’s-bell rung to prayers, that they might also offer their devotions to God with him; and would then return back to their plough. Thus powerful was his reason and example to persuade others to a practical piety and devotion […] (Walton 302)

The “Church-prayers,” the Daily Offices scripted by the Book of Common Prayer, with their Lectionary-guided readings of the Psalter and the Bible, function as organizers of community life, gathering members of the community at all social ranks to constitute a congregation, extending as well to labourers in the fields, who “let their plough rest when Mr Herbert’s Saint’s-bell rung to prayers, that they might also offer their devotions to God with him.” Thanks to the Cathedral Project, we can experience Herbert’s “practical piety and devotion,” since the Project makes available to us (as an experience that unfolds in real time) the nature of the reformed Church of England—corporate, liturgical, and sacramental—as a tradition pragmatic rather than dogmatic. While worship at Bemerton differed significantly from worship at St Paul’s in the style of its performance, the rites performed, the words spoken, and the process of integrating scripture, sacrament, and sermon were the same.

Figure 9: St Paul’s Cathedral, the Altar. Image Rendered by Austin Corriher.

Here, it is important to note that, regardless of what theologians at Oxford, or Cambridge, or in the House of Bishops might have thought about matters of election and predestination,10 the lived religion of the reformed Church of England was at least hypothetically universalist. Everyone was, by law, baptized into the congregation of Christ’s flock. Everyone received weekly, even daily, absolution for their sins and proclaimed their faith through reciting the historic Creeds; Everyone received Communion and was assured that they were “very members incorporate in the mystical body” of Christ and heirs of eternal life; And everyone was buried “in sure and certain hope of eternal life.11

The Cathedral Project also reminds us that one major aim of the founding documents of the reformed Church of England was to make possible worship that was corporate, interactive, and participatory for congregations the majority of whose members were unable to read. So, a number of features of worship—as scripted and enabled by the Prayer Book—were intended to facilitate worship and the spread of biblical knowledge through oral proclamation. The reading aloud of the Bible, chapter by chapter; the repetition of set prayers, the memorizing of the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Apostles’ Creed by young people all contributed to everyone’s biblical and religious knowledge and ability to participate fully in corporate worship. Or, as William Harrison put it, participation in Prayer Book worship enabled:

the ignorant[…] not only [to] learn divers of the psalms and usual prayers by heart, but also such as can read do pray together with [the priest], so that the whole congregation at one instant pour out their petitions unto the living God for the whole estate of His church in most earnest and fervent manner. (Harrison 36)

Figure 10: St Paul’s Cathedral, the Choir from the West. Image Rendered by Austin Corriher.

In addition, scholars must acknowledge that our own personal religious backgrounds or expectations contribute to how we perceive events of the 16th and 17th centuries. Since the early modern Church of England would eventually lead to some of its members’ organizing themselves into other Christian traditions, including English Presbyterianism, Congregationalism, and Methodism, a tendency persists to imagine the Church of England was already, or should have been already, affirming aspects of the faith that would eventually set these traditions apart from their tradition of origin. To the extent that we follow that practice, we over-interpret the practices and beliefs of the early modern Church of England to comply with our more recently-formed expectations.12 Since the Cathedral Project materializes the ephemeral, enabling us to experience aspects of the lived religion of early modern England as they unfold in real time, moment-by-moment, service by service, in recreations of the spaces in which they were originally performed, we may, by using it, be able to avoid anachronistic interpretations as we study developments in English religious and cultural history as though we were present in the built environment of the 1620s.

Figure 11: St Paul’s Cathedral, the Choir looking Westward. Image Rendered by Austin Corriher.

In reformulating the Cathedral Project’s approach to knowledge about the English Reformation, scholars have also, inevitably, brought their own approaches to knowledge—that it is chiefly private, chiefly focused on written or printed materials, chiefly alert to the concerns and reflections of a learned elite—to the traces of early modern culture that we study. The Cathedral Project reminds us that one of the primary means of experiencing the Bible in the early modern period was not through private reading but through public reading organized by the Prayer Book Lectionaries, a process that took everyone through sections of the Bible otherwise little-known to those who in their private reading attended to the core texts of the Pentateuch, the major prophets, the Gospels and the Epistles. The biblical knowledge of the literate combined familiarity achieved through participation in the Lectionary-guided public readings of scripture with familiarity gained through personal reading.13

Figure 12: St Paul’s Cathedral, the Chapter House. Image Rendered by Austin Corriher.

The Church of England we find recreated in the Cathedral Project is a Church at once remarkably conservative, preserving many of the features of the Medieval Church, including the traditional orders of ordained ministry,14 the use of liturgical rites and rituals brought together in the Book of Common Prayer, the traditional seasons of the Church Year, the use of traditional vestments such as the cassock, surplice, and cope, and the system of chapels, parish and collegial churches, and cathedrals.15 Yet it was also radical in its embrace of congregational participation in worship,16 of a vision of the visible Church as the earthly Body of Christ, “the blessed company of all faithful people,” and of adopting a patristic understanding of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist in terms of the embodied union of Christ with His Church in the corporate ”blessing, breaking, distributing, and receiving”17 of the bread and wine of Communion, the use of free-standing altars, and the expectation that Holy Communion would be celebrated, with significant numbers of recipients, every Sunday and Holy Day.

Figure 13: St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower. Image Rendered by Austin Corriher.

The Usefulness of Digital Modelling in Historic Research

The particular strength of digital modelling is in its ability to integrate the data that survives from the early 17th century into a coherent whole, enabling us to see multiple kinds of data simultaneously and in a way that invites the user to explore these spaces, structures, and scripts, looking for relationships, for consequences for the events we model of their of taking place in these specific places and drawing on the resources available to the original participants. While this data includes the visual record preserved in engravings and paintings that survive from the early 17th century, they also include data such as the dimensions of St Paul’s from Christopher Wren’s drawing of the Cathedral’s interior and from excavations of the original foundations. Measurements of the size of spaces within the Cathedral plus specifics about the materials used in their original construction help us determine the acoustic properties of these spaces and thus the way music and speech would sound within them.

Figure 14: St Paul’s Cathedral, the Almoner’s House. Image Rendered by Austin Corriher.

As a result, the Virtual St Paul’s Cathedral Project creates a new research tool for students of early modern literature and culture. To scholars who are unfamiliar with the way that worship scripted by the Book of Common Prayer formed and framed the religious life of early modern England, the most important features of worship in this period in the Church of England are the sermons that were delivered. Most readers of these sermons today, whether the sermons survive in print or manuscript, regard them as in effect theological essays that are to be interpreted as though they stood on their own, in isolation from their performative liturgical context. From this perspective, these sermons seem to have created their own occasions, drawn their own audiences, established a world of discourse in isolation from the worship services of the Church of England which all were required by law to attend.18

To address this issue, the Cathedral Project enables its users to recognize that sermons in the early modern Church of England generally took place as one part of a much larger liturgical event, or sequence of events, that create on that occasion an interwoven sequence of invocations, prayers, professions of faith, and scripture readings that is itself but one such occasion in the sequence of days on the Calendar of the Church Year. In the cycle of that year’s seasons, each day is brought to life in worship at the intersection of Prayer Book scripts for services and lectionary readings for every day and for every service, in the context of the season of the Church Year—from Advent to Trinity—in which the specific day happens to occur.

Some of the possible new lines of inquiry opened to scholars by the Virtual Cathedral Project include the consequences of recognizing and attending to the implications of the following:

1. Recognizing that worship in the Church of England was an experience that unfolded in a particular order over time in particular spaces and on specific occasions.

The Cathedral Project makes it possible to explore questions regarding architectural and acoustic properties of these spaces as well as the styles of ceremonial associated with them based on personal experience rather than simply as abstract concepts. Related questions include the sizes of congregations, their social, professional, and cultural composition, and the qualities of the holy and sacred evoked by these places and the style of worship they contain.19 One of the surprises of developing the Cathedral Project was the discovery that most of the congregations to whom Donne preached were relatively small; he may well have preached to thousands, but only rarely, when preaching at Paul’s Cross or other outdoor preaching stations such as St Mary Spital or the outdoor pulpit at the Palace of Whitehall.

The Cathedral Project also makes it possible to explore theological questions such as the meaning of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Medieval theologians emphasized the material presence of Christ in the bread and wine of communion in space, in the hands of the priest as he elevated the Host after he had recited the prayer of consecration. Experiencing the rite of Holy Communion as Cranmer conceived it (as an event that unfolds in real time) helps us shift our sense of Christ’s Presence to the action that includes the bread and wine and the recitation by the priest of the consecration prayer as well as the reception of the bread and wine by the congregation, so that in the words of an Elizabethan Catechism, the sign of Christ’s presence is the ”Bread and Wine, together with the actions of blessing, breaking, distributing and receiving, exercised in and about the same” (Nicholes 67).

2. Recognizing that worship in the post-Reformation Church of England was corporate, communal, and sacramental and that early modern preaching customarily took place within this liturgical context.

While some texts we recognize as sermons may well have been delivered as stand-alone lectures (perhaps within liturgical structures created for such events, like the singing of Psalms as part of Paul’s Cross sermons), most took place either as the prescribed sermon delivered as part of Holy Communion or as an addition to Evening Prayer.20

This means that sermons preached as part of a regularly scheduled worship service were experienced in the context of recitation of the prayers, creeds, scripture readings, textual interchanges, anthems, and other texts of the services for that day. Scholars will want to explore how the experience of these components of the service developed over time and informed the experience of participants. They will also want to explore how these texts, in the order in which they unfolded, framed sermons in terms of content, provided sources for biblical references, and enabled such questions as how a particular sermon did or did not contribute to an overall sense of that day’s particular religious experience.

Figure 15: St Paul’s Cathedral, the Altar at Communion. Image Rendered by Austin Corriher.

3. Recognizing that daily worship, as well as worship on each Sunday or Holy Day, occupied a day on the Calendar of the Church Year.

This calendar has its seasons: it begins with Advent in late November or early December, then Christmas (the day as well as the season), Epiphany (the day as well as the season), Lent (beginning with Ash Wednesday), and Easter, (the day as well as the season), this leads to Trinity Sunday and the weeks following Trinity Sunday, and ends with the Sunday before the First Sunday in Advent, which begins the cycle over again. Each of these seasons had its particular biblical, theological, and spiritual emphasis, deriving from the principal feasts such as Christmas or Easter occurring within it, reflected in the Collects specified for prayer for each Sunday and feast day in the season. The Cathedral Project makes it possible to recognize the essential elements of worship scripted by the Book of Common Prayer, both in its fixed and changing components, as fitting into cycles of repetition and change introducing into worship different biblical readings from service to service as well as predictable changes such as the monthly cycle of the Psalms21 or less predictable changes such as the choice of anthems, which was left to the discretion of individual parish clergy. In addition to exploring the possibilities of repetition and change, scholars can explore the role of musical settings of the Psalms, both ones associated with cathedrals and collegiate churches with their professional choirs and others associated with use of the metrical Psalter or other musical resource.

Figure 16: St Paul’s Cathedral, The Bishop’s Throne. Image Rendered by Austin Corriher.

4. Recognizing that every day on the calendar of the year had its own set of readings for use at Morning and Evening Prayer and for Holy Communion, if it took place on that day.

These readings are specified in the section of the Book of Common Prayer following the page headed “The Table and Calendar expressing the order of the Psalms.” This section contains several tables directing specific readings. The “Table for the order of the Psalms” specifies that set portions of the Psalter be read each day at morning and Evening Prayer so that the entire Psalter is read through once a month. A later set of tables prescribes Lessons from the Hebrew Bible (including the Apocrypha) and the New Testament to be read daily at Morning and Evening Prayer, so that the Hebrew Bible would have been read through once a year and the New Testament three times a year. The table “Proper Lessons to be Read for the First Lessons goodness [on Sundays] and Holy Days” includes chapters chiefly from the Hebrew Bible but occasionally from the New Testament to be read, chapter by chapter, on the specified days. These readings would replace the one chapter from the Hebrew Bible and sometimes the one chapter of the New Testament on those specific days specified by the monthly calendar of readings. In addition, following the script for the Great Litany there is a section entitled “The Collects, Epistles, and Gospels, to be used at […] Holy Communion through the Year,” which specifies a specific prayer (The Collect for the Day) and readings from the New Testament and the Gospels for the specified days.

Figure 17: St Paul’s Cathedral, From the Southwest. Image Rendered by Austin Corriher.

Scholars will want to explore the potential conversations set up among these readings and between them and the liturgical texts which create a context for such readings at each service and for the sermons delivered within these contexts. They will want to remember that clergy took oaths at their ordinations to read Morning and Evening Prayer daily either in church at public gatherings or individually on their own time. In any case, they were participating in the cycle of lectionary readings while working on sermons, regardless of whether or not they chose to include material specifically from these readings in their sermons. So, regarding their sermons, their sermon composition was affected by these readings.

5. Recognizing that daily and weekly worship took place in the larger framework of a lifetime.

This began with baptism in the first few days of a child’s life and led to instruction in the Christian life, especially the memorizing of set texts and study of the Prayer Book’s Catechism, then Confirmation, Ordination for some, Marriage for many, a priest’s visitation when one was sick, and, finally, Burial of the Dead. Daily worship in the context of a lifetime of formal reception of private and personal landmark events thus framed and inspired most of the religious life of early modern England, and, as Eamon Duffy puts it, “Cranmer’s somberly magnificent prose, read week by week, entered and possessed their minds, and became the fabric of their prayer, the utterance of their most solemn and their most vulnerable moments.”22

Scholars will want to understand the worship life of the Church of England as the context for the broader religious culture of early modern England, whether it sought to enrich that experience, or, as in some cases, to react against it. They will also want to explore the theology of Prayer Book worship, including the performed theology of interactions such as recitation of the Creeds, repetition of special prayers like the Lord’s Prayer, the confession and absolution, and participation in the sacraments and sacramental rites which contain statements of the meaning of what is happening. The theological content of sermons delivered in the context of these rites, seen in conversation with these liturgical assertions of the faith, should also be useful.

Figure 18: St Paul’s Cathedral, the North Transept. Image Rendered by Austin Corriher.

6. Recognizing that worship scripted by the Book of Common Prayer was corporate, collaborative, and interactive, with clergy leading and congregations responding in the series of gives and takes and unison portions of the Prayer Book rites that script the actions and movements of the participants.

Scholars will want to watch specifically for the distinctive vestments of the clergy, the modes of congregational response, and the surrounding rituals of movement from one part of the space to another, as well as ancillary actions and manual acts such as the turning of the hourglass at the beginning of a sermon, or the actions of the clergy and laity in baptisms, confirmations, communions, and other rituals of the service.

7. Recognizing the effectiveness of digital modelling in recreating past experiences and their sites of occurring.

Scholars will want to follow our example in modelling other places of worship as they were configured and used in the post-Reformation period as well as other occasions of worship. As digital modelling technology has continued to develop, new tools have become available. The Virtual Cathedral website now contains two immersive Virtual Reality experiences. One of these enables the user to explore the Choir of St Paul’s as the space for liturgical performance. This is an immersive visual experience alone, without an aural experience. Go here for this model: on Google Drive.

Figure 19: St Paul’s Cathedral, The Choir from above, from the VR Model. Image rendered by Grey Isley.

The second of these VR experiences includes both the visual and the acoustic experiences. This expanded VR experience enables the user to move about the space of the Cathedral’s Choir while experiencing both the Easter Day and Advent services, with all the spoken word, organ, and choral music sections included in the other sections of the website. The user will notice that the audio tracks change appropriately in sound quality as the VR user moves about the space. Go here for this version of the Project: on Google Drive.

Figure 20: St Paul’s Cathedral, the Choir from the West. From the Virtual Reality model, realized by Grey Isley.

For a fuller discussion of the VR models and their role in the Cathedral Project, go here: “Virtual Reality Model

8. Recognizing that the opportunity to experience liturgical rites and preaching as events that unfold in real time provides a multidimensional perspective on the interactions of rhetorical performance.

The Virtual Cathedral Project brings together the many elements that compose it into an embodied, interactive, enveloping, unfolding sequence of experiences that we can examine from a number of differing perspectives, enabling us to enrich our theorizing of the power and function of language in informing, shaping, and energizing human groups and individuals who form those groups.

Scholars will want to explore our concepts and understandings of language, especially language used in formal religious discourse, most notably in the process of Prayer Book worship, an embodiment of language that enables and informs participants in their relationships with one another. This embodied language moves the gathered Church through time from a call to repentance by individuals in corporate confession at the beginning of Morning Prayer to an affirmation, at the end of Holy Communion, that as a result of participation in this narrative of speaking and doing they can recognize that they are a body assured of God’s “favor and goodness [and are] very members incorporate in thy mystical body, which is the blessed company of all faithful people and be also heirs through hope of thy everlasting kingdom[…] ”23.”

The Virtual St Paul’s Cathedral Project enables such investigations because it brings together a wide range of data, assembles it into coherent models of space and time, and then sets it in motion as the interactions of the assembled data reveal to us the unfolding of past events otherwise lost to us, and perform their meaning.

The Credibility of our Models

The usefulness of our visual and acoustic models is, of course, entirely dependent on their reliability as accurate representations of the places and events they recreate. Our visual models’ claim to accuracy are based on the fact that their depictions of the buildings and spaces inside Paul’s Churchyard were achieved by combining data ranging from archaeological excavations of the original foundations left by the Great Fire of London (1666) with 17th century measurements of these buildings’ interior dimensions done by Wren and others24 and with surviving visual depictions of the cathedral and its surrounding structures.25 Chief among these sources were the drawings and engravings made by Wenceslaus Hollar for William Dugdale’s History of St Paul’s Cathedral. Drawing on all this data, we used chiefly Sketchup, Lumion, and Photoshop software in the construction of our visual models. Our VR models were constructed using the Unreal Engine software.

Figure 21: St Paul’s Cathedral, the Choir. Engraving by Wenceslaus Hollar. Image Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Unlike many digital recreations of lost spaces, which show the structures in pristine condition,26 our renderings of these models also incorporate data about the relative ages of different structures as well as the effects of weather, time- and season-governed angles of light, and effects of acidic coal burned for cooking and heating. Also, unlike other digital recreations of lost architectural spaces, the Cathedral Project recreates specific occasions of worship and preaching in St Paul’s Cathedral, events that took place in specific places and on specific occasions in the presence of particular congregations. The rendered models therefore incorporate data about the ages of particular structures as well as about weather, time- and season-governed angles of light, and acidic effects of coal being burned for cooking and heating.

Figure 22: St Paul’s Cathedral, the Bishop’s Chapel. Image Rendered by Austin Corriher.

We have also had the chance to review traditions of depiction for early modern domestic and commercial structures.27 These structures used large wood timbers for support. Traditional ways of depicting them—in the world of historic preservation as well as in the world of visual presentation—show these buildings with exposed timbers, usually painted black, and with white plaster filling in between the timbers. This is how we depicted these structures in the Virtual Paul’s Cross Project. Our review of surviving images of these buildings demonstrates, however, that in the original buildings the plaster completely covered the structural timbers and was more likely to have been painted in pastel colours than in white. As a result, we changed the style of presentation of these structures in the models used for the Cathedral Project.

We can sort the kinds and quality of data available to us into the following categories:

  1. Data-based accuracy—Information that is accurate in the sense that it is based on actual measurements, like measurements of the cathedral’s foundations, or Wren’s measurements of the Cathedral’s interior features. Features of our models that draw on these measurements include the Cathedral model itself, as well as the Paul’s Cross preaching station and many of the other buildings surrounding the Cathedral.

  2. Historic accuracy—Information that comes to us from the historic visual record, which is only as good as the image is accurate. After all, Hollar’s drawings do not always agree with his engravings, leaving us with the question of which data we should follow. Features of our models that draw on the visual record include the Cathedral building, as well as the Paul’s Cross preaching station.

  3. Representational accuracy—When, as is the case for many of the buildings in the Churchyard, we have the measurements of the foundations of the building, and maybe a detail or two about the number of stories or number of garrets, but no further details. But we know from other evidence what kind of building it was, and we know from seventeenth-century images the kinds of features buildings of that kind had, so we can create a representation of that kind of building based on other buildings of that kind for which we have images or can look at surviving examples. Features of our models that demonstrate representational accuracy include most of the commercial and residential buildings surrounding the Cathedral, including the Deanery, and most structures around the Bishop’s Palace.

Figure 23: St Paul’s Cathedral, the Bishop’s Palace. Image Rendered by Austin Corriher.

  1. Informed guesswork—When we know some things, but not others, we have to make a guess about the missing details, using surviving structures or images or a sense of proportion to fill in what is truly lost. Perhaps the most striking example of this kind of practice took place when we were developing the Virtual Paul’s Cross Project and recognized that, although we had measurements of the foundations of the Preaching Station from archaeological excavations of the original foundations, we did not know how tall the original structure was or what its actual design was. Surviving images depict widely varying designs for the structure as well as widely differing estimates of its height. So, we extrapolated upward from the original foundation and created a design for the building that amalgamates distinctive features of structures shown in the surviving imagery.

Our project therefore materializes the ephemeral, enabling us to study developments in English religious and cultural history as though we were present in the built environment of the 1620’s. In this period, the Cathedral and its surroundings moved from predominantly religious uses to a mixed environment of religious, social, and commercial (chiefly book dealers) spaces, each with its consequences for preexisting and new construction as well as for social interaction. We explore how this reorganized space affected use of the cathedral by merchants, by members of the nobility, and by lawyers and prostitutes who came there to look for clients.

Limits to Our Work

Our work, of course, has limits. The data we have to draw on is sometimes contradictory, as in the differences between Wenceslaus Hollar’s drawing of the East Front (see figure 24) and his engraving of the same view of the Cathedral (see Figure 24). Overall, Hollar’s drawing is superficially identical to his engraving; on closer examination, we found that differences between the two begin to appear.28

Figure 24: St Paul’s Cathedral, the East Front. Drawing by Wenceslaus Hollar. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Notice, for example the several differences between the two images in the details of Hollar’s depiction of the exterior of the East Front, differences that include the width and ornamentation of the transept walls where they meet the roof lines, the inclusion of lines marking individual pieces of stonework on the pillars supporting the transept fronts, the size of the windows in the lower level of the South Transept, and the size and framing of the window in the pediment of the East Front.

Figure 25: St Paul’s Cathedral, the East Front, Reversed. Engraving by Wenceslaus Hollar. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The image of St Paul’s in our model is based on Hollar’s work, with the drawings given first priority, evaluated especially in light of John Schofield’s thorough survey of all the relevant archaeological research (See St Paul’s Cathedral before Wren ). The one exception here is the front of the North Transept, which in Hollar’s work shows the façade designed by Inigo Jones and built in the mid-1630s. Here, we have evaluated images of the North Transept from John Gipkin’s painting and engravings of the Churchyard to arrive at a design that is supported by the evidence and in keeping with the design of the rest of the building. More challenging has been our treatment of the Great West Front of the Cathedral, for which Hollar gives us several examples: All the examples show the West Front after the renovations of Inigo Jones, dating from the end of the 1630s. Earlier images of the West Front do survive, but all are fragmentary and partial, and are often contradictory.

Figure 26: St Paul’s Cathedral, the West Front. Image Rendered by Austin Corriher.

A fuller account of how we arrived at the above design for the Great West Front is to be found on the website. To summarize, we combined the features of the design found on the few partial images of the West Front that do survive with the design of the west front of a church in Caen—St Etienne—which is the acknowledged model for the interior of St Paul’s nave.

Figure 27: St Etienne, Caen, France, the West Front. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The Appearance of Buildings Surrounding Paul’s Churchyard

With the guidance of Schofield’s and Peter Blayney’s accounts of bookshops and other commercial and residential structures in Paul’s Churchyard, we have based our models of all these structures on surviving images of similar structures from the early modern period as well as on buildings from the period that stand today either in cathedral towns or urban areas of England. Thus, these structures constitute approximations of the original structures, definitely representative of such buildings in the 1620s, but accurate models in the generic sense rather than the mimetic.

The models of buildings one sees on this website thus embody data that exhibit a range of levels and types of accuracy, of specificity or general categorization, of levels and types of accuracy. Images shown on this site reflect decisions that easily could have resulted in different images altogether. Our models are at best a mixture of hard data, inferences, and approximations of the objects and spaces they recreate. We use them best when we recognize that they are not mirror images of reality but tools for interpreting their subjects, as important for what separates them as they are for what links them to their subjects.

As this discussion suggests, the data we have available, while considerable, does not provide everything we need to know to produce a completely data-driven model. Although everything one sees in our model is based on a careful consideration of the historic record, there remain gaps to close, conflicting evidence to evaluate, choices to make, assumptions to ponder and question. In discussing our visual models, we have been careful to indicate the kinds of data in which our depictions are based.

Figure 28: Paul’s Churchyard, the Cross Yard. From the Visual Model, constructed by Joshua Stephens

Another feature of our models that sets them apart from other digital recreations of lost architectural spaces is that we have incorporated angles of sunlight, signs of weather, and marks of difference in the aging of buildings. The typical digital recreation of a historic building makes every structure look the same in external appearance; everything looks brand new, regardless of how old the structure was or whether or not adjacent buildings were of significantly different ages. We recognize that by the 1620s some parts of our St Paul’s Cathedral had been out in the weather for several hundred years and others were relatively new, traces of which we incorporate in the final versions of our models.

We also came to the conclusion that the conventional depiction of early modern houses with their wood framing exposed is a modern creation, not a historically accurate one. After all, contemporary depictions of residential and commercial structures uniformly show buildings in which the structural timbers are plastered over so the structural timbers are simply not visible.

Figure 29: 16th century houses in King Street, Westminster. Image courtesy of the London Picture Archive

We came to this conclusion between our work on the Virtual Paul’s Cross Project and the Virtual St Paul’s Cathedral Project, especially after reading Waldemar Komorowski’s article on depiction of the facades of medieval Krakow.29 As a result, the houses of Paul’s Churchyard in the Paul’s Cross Project show their structural timbers as exposed, while the the same structures in the Cathedral Project show these buildings as having the structural timbers plastered over.

Figure 30: Paul’s Churchyard, looking east, from the west. From the Visual Model, constructed by Joshua Stephens, rendered by Austin Corriher

All these approaches to visual modelling enable us to emphasize the fact that the Cathedral Project recreates specific occasions of worship and preaching in St Paul’s Cathedral, events that took place in specific places and on specific occasions in the presence of particular congregations. In short, our incorporation of visual traces of time into our visual images underscores the specifically temporal and physical context for the events we model.

The Acoustic Model

Figure 31: St Paul’s Cathedral, the Choir. Acoustic Model by Grey Isley.

The most important aspect of the Virtual Cathedral Project is, however, the acoustic model and the listening experience it makes possible. Because of it, we may experience worship and preaching in post-Reformation London as events that unfold in real time and in the architectural environments in which they originally took place. Our acoustic model combines basic dimensions of the visual models with the acoustic properties of the materials used in their construction. Within these models, the Project brings together literary, religious, musical, and cultural histories of that period to recreate festive and ferial worship30 services using the liturgies of the Book of Common Prayer and music composed by musicians working at St Paul’s, with actors using scripts in original early modern pronunciation and musicians from Jesus College, Cambridge University standing in for their 17th century predecessors.

Figure 32: St Paul’s Cathedral, the South Aisle of the Choir. Image Rendered by Austin Corriher.

Our recordings were made using directional microphones to eliminate ambient noise in the recording studio; they were auralized using the iPack Simpa acoustic modelling program, which was created for this project, augmented by the CATT Acoustic program. Our recordings use an electronic recreation of an early modern organ; all recordings were made to capture the pure sound of the performers’ voices, without bringing with them traces of the spaces in which they were recorded. Our acoustic modelling software enables us to hear these recorded performances as though they occurred inside the spaces created for us by our visual models.

Figure 33: St Paul’s Cathedral, the Choir looking East. Image Rendered by Austin Corriher.

The festival celebration of Easter Day 1614 includes the morning services of Matins, the Great Litany, and Holy Communion as well as Evensong in the afternoon. The ferial, or ordinary day—the first Tuesday in the Advent Season in late November—includes only Matins and Evensong. These early modern worship services are auralized (recorded speech and music projected into the digital model) in order to experience sight and sound. The sound changes as one moves from one section of the Cathedral to another, enabling us to experience these events as they unfold from six different listening positions, sounding to us as they would have sounded when they originally took place. As a result, early modern worship and preaching are no longer available to us simply as printed texts or handwritten manuscripts; they now can be experienced in real time through this project’s multi-media portrayal of period-specific worship music and preaching in the cathedral.

The music selected for performance includes a range of liturgical music, including plainsong chant, anthems, and settings of canticles, all either traditional or composed by employees of the Cathedral such as Adrian Batten or by employees of other major religious foundations of the late 16th and early 17th centuries, such as The Chapel Royal and Westminster Abbey. These musicians include Thomas Tallis, Orlando Gibbons, and William Byrd. All the compositions used in these services were composed before 1625, so they would have been available for use by the musicians at St Paul’s when we imagine these services taking place.

The Choir of Jesus College, Cambridge, under the direction of Choirmaster Richard Pinel, plays the part of the Choir of St Paul’s, as well as for the rest of the congregation attending these services. Standing in for the organists at St Paul’s (John Tomkins, Adrian Batten from 1626, and Martin Peerson also from 1626), are Richard Pinel or the Organ Scholars at Jesus College Dewi Rees and Jordan Wong.31

The scripts of all the worship services and the sermons were prepared in early modern London dialect by the UK linguist David Crystal. Crystal can also be heard delivering his script of Bishop Andrewes’ Easter Day sermon. The recording of Donne’s sermon for Easter Day 1624 was made by Ben Crystal, actor, London, United Kingdom. The parts of clergy participating in the services on Easter Day and the Tuesday after the First Sunday in Advent are performed by the British actors Colin Hurley and William Sutton.

While the sermon by Donne performed as part of the Cathedral Project is the sermon that Donne preached on that day, the sermon by Andrewes is one he prepared to preach on that day, presumably at the Chapel Royal or at the cathedral in Winchester, but was unable to because of illness. When we were looking for a sermon to be delivered at Holy Communion on Easter 1624, we looked for sermons by bishops, since preaching on Sunday mornings in their cathedrals was their prerogative. This one is the only one that turned up. We are happy to have given the good Bishop a chance finally to deliver his sermon, after four hundred years.

Figure 34: Chart of Listening Positions in the Choir of the Cathedral. Chart created by Austin Corriher.

On the Virtual St Paul’s Cathedral website, all of the services we have recreated are available for listening from 5 different positions in the Cathedral’s Choir.32 Users of the website can move from listening position to listening position to sample the changes in sound quality that result.

Figure 35: St Paul’s Cathedral, Paul’s Gate. Image Rendered by Austin Corriher.

New Perspectives

The Virtual St Paul’s Cathedral Project intends to be more than an exercise in digital experimentation. It demonstrates the potential for digital modelling to integrate a wide range of data—and kinds of data—into a coherent presentation of past locations and events. More important, it enables us to explore the evolving minute-to-minute process of meaning-making that takes place during a service of worship that is both inclusive and participatory. A worship service—and a series of worship services—scripted by the Book of Common Prayer consists of an unfolding intersection of prayers both recited by the priest alone and recited by the whole body of the assembled worshippers, these included anthems, verbal exchanges between priest and congregation, recitations of creeds, confessions and absolutions, scripture readings, the exchanges in Holy Communion, and, of course, the sermon itself.

The post-Reformation Church of England was thus at heart a church pragmatic, corporate, and communal, the earthly body of the risen Christ, whose promises of forgiveness, reconciliation, and hope applied to individuals not as a result of their unique, personal, direct relationship with God but as they were part of the larger Christian community. Or, as one of the two post-Communion prayers puts it, God

dost vouchsafe to feed us, which have duly received these holy mysteries, with the spiritual food of the most precious body and blood of thy Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, and dost assure us thereby of thy favor and goodness toward us, and that we be very members incorporate in thy mystical body, which is the blessed company of al faithful people, and be also heirs through hope of thy everlasting kingdom, by the merits of the most precious death and passion of thy dear son.33 (Book of Common Prayer 265)

With this prayer in the service articulating the full meaning of what has just happened in the actions of the priest and congregation, one might understand more fully why Cranmer thought that the appropriate corporate response to mark the culmination of the Communion rite was the Gloria in excelsis, transported here from its historic place near the beginning of the Holy Communion liturgy.

Figure 36: St Paul’s Cathedral, The Choir Looking West. Image rendered by Austin Corriher.


Most of all, however, our concern in the Cathedral Project has been with what was happening inside the Choir of St Paul’s, where the Bible was read, as structured by the Lectionary, where sermons were preached in the context of Prayer Book worship, where prayers were offered, the creeds were recited, and the sacraments were observed. The Cathedral Project enables us to examine this corporate process of liturgical practice, so that we can understand the experience of embodied, lived religion and recognize the nature of the English Reformation in its creation of a pragmatic tradition, at least hypothetically universalist in its theological outlook. Traces of this kind of Reformation are to be sought in the changes in the arrangements of liturgical space and in the functions they enabled.

Figure 37: St Paul’s Cathedral, the Cross Yard. Image Rendered by Austin Corriher.

In this context, the Cathedral Project enables us to discuss questions of meaning and significance as becoming important and understandable in process instead of as part of static and enduring formulations. The Virtual St Paul’s Cathedral Project and its companion the Virtual Paul’s Cross Project remind us that early modern worship and sermon are primarily acts of performance, conducted in the relationship between priest and congregation on a specific occasion and in a specific architectural setting. Even more, these projects enable us to experience the interactive character of the performative, observing how the components of Prayer Book worship interlace and interact as the worship unfolds. We are called to recognize that part of the context for every sermon is the matrix of biblical texts appointed for public reading on that day by the lectionaries of the Book of Common Prayer. We can understand more fully the surviving texts of early modern sermons by understanding how to situate them in heir original setting, recognizing that the texts that survive represent, at best, scripts for their performance and, more commonly, only provide traces of the lost original. Sermons now can be viewed as occasion-specific, deeply contextual, interactive performances that take meaning from the liturgy surrounding them and contribute to the overall action and understanding of the gathered congregation.

The Cathedral Project also demonstrates the enduring value of exploring—for any surviving sermon or theological text for which we can determine the exact or approximate date of its composition and, for sermons—the date, time, and place of its original delivery—the physical space of its delivery, the composition of the congregation, the liturgical context for its delivery, the lessons appointed for that occasion, and the general location of the occasion in the passage of the Church Year. We need constantly to be aware of the connections among the many components of worship, the relationships among clergy and laity, the interplay of confession and absolution, of challenge and reassurance, of promise and fulfillment. We can also read the religious literature of this period in a more informed way when we have as our companions on this journey the biblical texts assigned by the Prayer Book Lectionaries for reading on every day of the Church Year, knowing that in doing so we share in this journey with the writers we study.34 Taken together, Prayer Book worship is corporate immersion in the rhythms of worship as a structure and process of meaning-making for individuals and for their communities. Or, perhaps better, for individuals through their participation in the worship-life of their communities. Use of the Prayer Book creates networks for understanding and practising the language and rituals of belief, networks of communication among believers, networks for structuring the relationship between private and public, giving meaning to birth, and growth, to the stages of adulthood, to confronting the mysteries of life and of death.

Figure 38: St Paul’s Cathedral, the Deanery. Image Rendered by Austin Corriher.

One gets a glimpse of the functioning of these networks in Donne’s famous discourse on the bells, the language of the bells, the rituals of the bells, the sound and the meaning of the bells, the bells, we know, of St Paul’s and of the surrounding network of parish churches. Rich with allusions to the Lectionary readings for November and December, especially to the Book of Ecclesiasticus, to which he makes reference almost as many times as he does to the more obvious biblical sources, Donne’s work is immersed deeply in the lived religion of St Paul’s and of the Church of England in the early seventeenth century, as we glimpse in its most famous section:

PERCHANCE he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill as that he knows not it tolls for him. And perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that. The church is catholic, universal, so are all her actions; all that she does, belongs to all.[...]. all mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators[...] but God’s hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again, for that library where every book shall lie open to one another; as therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come[...]. The bell doth toll for him, that thinks it doth; and though it intermit again, yet from that minute, that that occasion wrought upon him, he is united to God.[...]. No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.35

Meaning here comes through understanding the self through its relationship with the corporate worshipping community, manifested in its rites, rituals, its acquisition of meaning through understanding one’s relationship to the corporate community as it worships a God whom, it believes, “shall bind up all our scattered leaves again” (Donne, 86–87).

Figure 39: St Paul’s Cathedral, the Great East Front. Image Rendered by Austin Corriher.

If the Cathedral Project enables us to reach a fuller understanding of how that worshipping community was formed, how people who worshipped at St Paul’s and across England in the 1620s found meaning for their individual lives through their relationship to each other and to God in corporate worship enabled by use of the Prayer Book, what role sermons played in this style of worship, and how in this practice they found language to express that understanding, then the Project will have fulfilled its purpose.

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