From Old Church Lore by William Andrews; William Andrews & Co., The Hull Press; London, 1891; pp. 120-137.

stylized border engraving of cherubs and interlacing vines [120]

St. Paul’s Cross.

manuscript letter D EATH on the cross was regarded as the most degrading form of capital punishment. The Romans executed on it only slaves and the lowest class of malefactors. It was a cruel mode of punishment, as a person might linger alive on it for days. It was customary to erect crosses without the gates of the towns, but in places largely frequented by the people. The name of the criminal, and the nature of his offence, were inscribed on a tablet, for the information of the public. The crucifixion of Christ on the cross, has caused Christians to reverence it, and the sign of the cross to be regarded as a holy sign.

In bygone times, crosses of various kinds might be seen in England in every direction. A writer says that they were as common in the olden days as milestones are at the present time. 121 The Island of Iona, it is asserted, once possessed 360 crosses, but now only one is left, the famous runic cross of St. Martin’s. Some interesting examples of runic crosses still remain, and a good specimen may still be seen in the churchyard of Eyam, Derbyshire.

An engraving of a large stone cross in a church-yard, with engravings all around.  Trees and smaller funeral monuments are in the background.


It is generally supposed to have been brought to the churchyard from the adjacent moor. The cross is richly embellished with symbolical devices on the arms, some figures are blowing trumpets, others holding 122 crosses, and one holding a book. On one side of the shaft is a carving of the Virgin and Child.

A complete history of the cross cannot be attempted here. We must, in this chapter, content ourselves with an account of the Preaching Cross of St. Paul’s, London. Its history is linked with the religious and political life of England. Preaching crosses were by no means uncommon in bygone times, and the most famous was the one under notice. It is not known when a pulpit cross was first erected at St. Paul’s, but it has been ascertained that it was standing in 1241, and that most likely it existed long prior to that period.

The Mayor, in 1259, was commanded by Henry III., to compel all city youths who had reached the age of fourteen and upwards, to take, at St. Paul’s Cross, an oath of allegiance to him and his heirs.

In 1382, the cross was thrown down by an earthquake. An effort was soon made by the Bishop of London to rebuild the cross, and indulgences were granted to those who contributed to the work. The Rev. W. Sparrow Simpson, D.D., F.S.A., in his “Chapters in the History of Old St. Paul’s,” gives the following literal translation of the 123 original document, which is still preserved in the Cathedral record-room: “To the sons of our Holy Mother, the Church, under whose notice, these present letters shall come, William, by Divine permission, Archbishop of Canterbury, Primate of all England, and Legate of the Apostolic See, wishes eternal health in the Lord. We esteem it a service pleasant and acceptable to God, whensoever, by the alluring gifts of indulgences, we stir up the minds of the faithful to a greater readiness in contributing their gifts to such works as concern the honour of the Divine Name. Since then, the High Cross in the greater churchyard of the Church of London (where the Word of God is habitually preached both to the clergy and laity, being a place very public and well known), by strong winds and tempests of the air and terrible earthquakes, hath become so frail and injured, that, unless some means be quickly taken for its repair and restoration, it will fall utterly into ruin; therefore, by the mercy of Almighty God, trusting in the merits and prayers of the most Blessed Virgin Mary, His Mother, and of the Blessed Apostles, Peter and Paul, and of all the Saints, We, by these presents, mercifully grant in the Lord, to all the servants of Christ throughout 124 our province of Canterbury, wheresoever living, truly repenting and confessing their sins, who, for the restoration and repair of the aforesaid Cross, shall give, bequeath, or in any manner assign, of the goods committed to them, gifts of charity, Forty Days of Indulgence. In testimony whereof, we have to this present letter affixed our seal. Given in Manor of Fulham, in the diocese of London, on the 18th May, in the year of our Lord one thousand, three hundred, and eighty-seven, and in the sixth year of our translation.”

This document was not confined to London and its neighbourhoods, the Bishops of Ely, Bath, Chester, Carlisle, Llandaff, and Bangor approved of it, and assisted in its circulation in their dioceses. Bishop Kempe, who held the see of London, appears to have been active in this movement. The amount realised by means of the indulgences is not known, but sufficient was collected to enable the Bishop of London to rebuild the cross.

Penitents, under ecclesiastical censure, came here to perform public penance; and perhaps the most familiar name of those who came is Jane Shore. It was in the year 1483 that she did public penance. She was one of the 125 mistresses of Edward IV., who died in 1483, and, within two months of his death, she was tried by Richard III. for sorcery and witchcraft, but he failed in proving his charges. He took property from her equal to about £20,000 of the present time. His next step was to bring her before the Ecclesiastical Courts and have her tried for incontinence. It was for this crime that she had to do penance in the streets of London. She proceeded from the Bishop’s Palace, clothed in a white sheet, and carrying in her hand a wax taper, and before her was carried a cross. We are told by Rowe:

“Submissive, sad, and lowly was her look,
  A burning taper in her hand she bore,
  And on her shoulders, carelessly confus’d
  With loose neglect, her lovely tresses hung,
  Upon her cheeks a faintish flush was spread,
  Feeble she seemed, and sorely smit with pain,
  While barefoot as she trod the flinty pavement,
  Her footsteps all along were mark’d with blood.
  Yet silent still she pass’d, and unrepining,
  Her streaming eyes bent over on the earth,
  Except when, in some bitter pang of sorrow,
  To Heaven she seem’d in fervent zeal to raise
  And beg that mercy man denied her here.

It was on June 19th, 1483, that Dr. Ralph Shaw, brother of the Lord Mayor, preached a 126 famous sermon at the cross. Richard, Duke of Gloucester, intended seizing the crown. Dr. Shaw was directed to make the purpose known in his sermon, and, accordingly, took for his text the fourth chapter of the Book of Wisdom: “Bastard slips shall not take root.” He tried to prove the illegitimacy of Edward V. and his brother, saying that when Edward IV. married their mother, Elizabeth Woodwille, he was already the husband of Lady Eleanor Boteler, of Sudeley. Next, he expressed a doubt if Edward was in reality the son of Richard, Duke of York, and entitled to the crown of England. He made a strong point of the fact that no likeness existed between him and his reputed father. Continuing his sermon, he observed that “my Lord Protector, that very noble prince, the pattern of all heroic deeds, represented the very face and mind of the great Duke, his father; he is the perfect image of his father; his features are the same, and the very express likeness of that noble Duke.” Sir Thomas More says that it had been arranged that, when the words had been spoken, the Protector should have come amongst the assembly, “to the end that these words, reciting with his presence, might have been taken by the bearers 127 as though the Holy Ghost had put them in the preacher’s mouth, and should have moved the people even then to cry, ‘King Richard! King Richard!’ that it might have been after said that he was specially chosen by God, and in a manner by miracle. But the device failed, either by the Protector’s negligence, or the preacher’s overmuch diligence.” There is not any evidence that the device was contemplated. It is suggested that the sermon is not correctly reported, and it is believed that Richard would not have submitted to any aspersion on the chastity of his mother.

William Tyndale’s translation of the Bible was publicly burned in front of the cross in the year 1527. “Cardinal Wolsey,” writes W. H. Davenport Adams, in his “Book about London,” “sat enthroned in the midst of bishops, mitred abbots, and princes, and attended by a large concourse of chaplains and spiritual doctors. Opposite, on a platform, knelt six heretics, clothed in penitential garb — one holding a lighted taper of five pounds weight, the others carrying symbolic faggots, signifying the fate they had deserved, though, this time, mercifully allowed to escape it. After they had made confession of their errors, and begged pardon of God and the 128 Holy Catholic Church, Bishop Fisher preached a sermon. The penitents were then conducted to a great fire which had been kindled in front of the north door of the cathedral, and led round it thrice, casting in their faggots as they went.” The ceremony concluded by Testaments and tracts being cast into the blazing fire.

Shortly after Mary had occupied the throne, a serious riot occurred at the cross. On Sunday, August 13th, 1553, Bourne, the Queen’s chaplain, preached to a large gathering of refugees and English fanatics. In the course of his sermon, he prayed for the souls of the departed, praised Bonner, and spoke in an uncharitable manner of Ridley. He was assailed with cries of “Papist, Papist! Tear him down!” A dagger was thrown at him, but striking one of the side-posts of the cross, missed him. Men drew their swords, and had not leading Protestants interfered, doubtless Bourne would have lost his life, and those who supported him would have suffered. Fox, in his “Acts and Monuments,” relates how Master Bradford came into the pulpit, and “spoke so mildly, christianly, and effectuously, that, with few words he appeased all: and afterward he and Master Rogers conducted the preacher betwixt 129 them from the pulpit to the grammar school door, where they left him safe.” Shortly afterwards, the two men who had intervened were cast into prison, and finally suffered death at the fires of Smithfield.

Determined efforts were made to proclaim the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, and on the following Sunday, Mr. Thomas Watson, an earnest preacher, gave a stirring sermon. He was guarded with 200 soldiers, “with their halberdes.” Amongst those who listened to him, are named the Marquis of Winchester, the Earl of Bedford, the Earl of Pembroke, and the Lord Rich. Watson, some time previously, had been set in the stocks at Canterbury, by the orders of Cranmer. The time was near at hand when the teachings of the Roman Church were “heard without protest, if not without approval.” The Catholics took decided measures to close the mouths of those who did not agree with them.

Mary died. In her stead, Elizabeth occupied the throne, and a change came over the scene. The new Queen dearly loved pomp. On one occasion, she went to hear one of the Reformers preach at St. Paul’s, and in her train were a large number of lords and ladies, 1000 soldiers, ten 130 great cannons, hundreds of drums and trumpets, a party of morris-dancers, and two white bears. On Ash Wednesday, 1565, Dean Nowell preached. Queen Elizabeth was present, and a very large number of the inhabitants of London, doubtless being more anxious to see their Queen than listen to the preacher. The Dean had not proceeded far with his sermon when he came to the subject of images, which, we are told, “he handled roughly.” The Queen cried out: “Leave them alone.” He did not hear her, and continued his invectives. Raising her voice, she said: “To your text, Mr. Dean! to your text! Leave that, we have heard enough of that! To your subject!” The Dean stammered a few more incoherent words, and was obliged to give up any further attempts to continue his sermon. The Queen left the place in a rage, and the Protestant part of the congregation, we are told, were moved to tears.

The most able preachers of the day, including Latimer, Cranmer, and other great men, delivered sermons at St. Paul’s Cross, and it was recognised as the seat of pulpit eloquence. Sermons were lightly esteemed unless preached here. The preachers were lodged at the 131 Shunamite House for two days before and for one day after their sermon, and suitable diet provided for them. Soon after Richard Hooker had taken his degree (1581), he was invited to preach at the cross. He arrived in London wet and weary, and ill with a severe cold. He was carefully tended and cured by Mrs. Churchman, who had charge of the Shunamite House. Her consideration did not end with her nursing. She persuaded Hooker that he was “a man of tender constitution,” and that it would be his wisest course to have a wife who would nurse him. Not only would a wife prolong his life, but would make him more comfortable. Mrs. Churchman suggested her own daughter as a desirable wife. Hooker had not courage to refuse the proposal, and in due course they were married. The union was in every respect unsuitable. She is described as being without beauty and portion, and, worse still, she was of a shrewish temper.

The Dean of St. Paul’s, in 1588, gave public notice at the cross of the defeat of the “Invincible Armada.” Important local, as well as national events were made known here. It was here and in similar places, says a recent writer, “Londoners must have first heard of the triumphs at Cressy 132 and Poictiers — of their glorious Black Prince and his captive, King John; as in a latter age of the victory of Agincourt.” Public announcements in past ages were very important when few could read.

We read, in an old record, that on the birthday of Queen Elizabeth, on the 17th November, 1595, “the Pulpit Cross, in St. Paul’s Church-yard, was new repaired, painted, and partly enclosed with a wall of brick. Doctor Fletcher, Bishop of London, preached there in praise of the Queen, and prayed for her Majesty, before the Lord Mayor, Aldermen, and Citizens, in their best liveries. Which sermon being ended, upon the church-leades the trumpets sounded, the cornets winded, and the quiristers sung an antheme. On the steeple many lights were burned, the Tower shot off her ordnance, the bels were rung, bone-fires made, etc.”

The next event we notice at the cross, is in the reign of the first king of the ill-fated house of Stuart. For some years Henry Farley had, with pen and picture, done much to rouse an interest in St. Paul’s Cathedral, which, for over half a century, had been in a dilapidated condition, the chief cause being the result of a fire in 1561. 133 In addition to trying to get bills introduced into Parliament, publishing pamphlets, he had, in 1616, pictures painted. One painting represented a procession of great personages; another, the said personages seated at a sermon at St. Paul’s Cross. We reproduce a picture of his painting of the cross. In the gallery, placed against the choir of the church, are seated the King, Queen, Prince of Wales, the Lord Mayor, and other notable men and women, and a large gathering of citizens is seated in front of the cross. The dog-whipper is busy driving away a dog. The outcome of Farley’s zeal, was the visit of James I., with his family and court, to hear a sermon here, on Midlent Sunday, in 1620. The gathering would be similar to the one represented in the picture drawn four years previously. The preacher was Dr. John King, called by James “The King of Preachers.” He selected for his text, Psalm cii. 13, 14. “Thou wilt arise, and have mercy upon Zion; for the appointed time is come; for Thy servants delight in the stones thereof, and have pity on the dust thereof.” It will, perhaps, not be without interest to give a few quotations from Dr. King’s sermon, as a specimen of the extravagant figures of speech which prevailed 134 at this period, and came down to the days of William III.

An Engraving of a large cathedral, two wings are shown and at their intersection is a square with a small building with a cupola in the middle.  Around it are many people, on the wings are boxes in two rows containing people. See description in text.


“I am now,” said Dr. King, “to speak unto you of litterall and artificial Zion — a temple without life, yet of a sicklie and crazie constitution, sicke of age itselfe, and with many aches in her joynts, together with a lingering consumption that hath long been in her bowels, 135 the timber in the beames whereof cryeth, ‘I perish,’ and the stone on the walles answereth no less, and part is already moultered away to stone, part to dust, and (that which is more), symbolizing with the other Zion, not only when fates and casualties, but in the very retinues and revolutions of these fates. After her building (600 years after Christ), salted with fire, sacrificed to the anger of God, and being raised, Phœnix, out of the ashes, betwixt 400 and 500 more (two in a thousand years), touched by an invisible hand, with a coal from the altar of heaven, that was never blowne, which wholly consumed the crest and vertical point, the top and top-gallant, and so scorched the rest, that ever since it hath remained valetudinary and infirm, rather peced out with an ordinary kind of physic, than restored to a sound plight.” In conclusion, he said, “Set it as seale upon your hearts, that your king has come unto you. Such comings are not often; Queen Elizabeth once, and now your sovereign once. Would it be believed, that a king should come from his court to this cross, where princes seldom or never come, and that ceremony to be in state, with a kinde of sacred pompe and procession, accompanied with all the fair flowers of his field, 136 and the fairest rose of his garden, to make requests to his subjects, not for his private, but for the public; not for himselfe, but for God; not out of reason, state policy, but of religion and piety; no lesse fruit of honour and favour with God and man accruing thereby to his people, than to his sacred Majesty. You see it, value and prize it.” James I. and others gave liberal donations towards the restoration fund, but it was not until the reign of Charles I. that any real progress was made. The king and Archbishop Laud were most active in carrying out the much-required work.

The story of St. Paul’s Cross, and the interest that gathers round it, must here close. The Civil War is about to cast a gloom over the land, and bring misery to gentle and simple. The exact year the cross was pulled down is a disputed point, but most likely about 1643.

Carlyle, in his “Letters and Speeches of Cromwell,” has the following striking passage: “Paul’s Cross was a kind of stone tent, with leaden roof, at the N.E. corner of Paul’s Cathedral, where sermons were still, and have long been, preached in the open air; crowded devout congregations gathering there, with forms to sit 137 on, if you came early. Queen Elizabeth used to ‘tune her pulpits,’ she said, when there was any great thing on hand; as Governing Persons now strive to tune the Morning Newspapers. Paul’s Cross, a kind of Times Newspaper, but edited partly by Heaven itself, was then a most important entity.”