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Tudor Minute June 4: Lightning strikes “Old” St. Paul’s Cathedral

Hey, this is Heather from the Renaissance English History Podcast, and this is your Tudor Minute for June 4.

Today in 1561, “old” St Paul’s Cathedral – as opposed to the New Christopher Wren one there now – though it was actually the fourth one built on that site – lost its spire when lightning struck it. This is how it was reported at the time:

“… [B]etween one and two of the clock at afternoon was seen a marvellous great fiery lightning, and immediately ensued a most terrible hideous crack of thunder such as seldom hath been heard, and that by estimation of sense, directly over the City of London.  … Divers persons in time of the said tempest being on the river of Thames, and others being in the fields near adjoining to the City affirmed that they saw a long and spear-pointed flame of fire (as it were) run through the top of the broach or shaft of Paul’s steeple, from the east westward.  And some of the parish of St Martin’s [Ludgate] being then in the street did feel a marvellous strong air or whirlwind with a smell like brimstone coming from Paul’s Church. … Between four and five of the clock a smoke was espied … to break out under the bowl of the said shaft … . But suddenly after, as it were in a moment, the flame broke forth in a circle like a garland round about the broach, … and increased in such wise that within a quarter of an hour or a little more, the cross and the eagle on the top fell down upon the south cross aisle …

Some there were, pretending experience in wars, that counselled the remnants of the steeple to be shot down with cannons, which counsel was not liked … .  Others perceiving the steeple to be past all recovery, considering the hugeness of the fire and the dropping of the lead, thought best to get ladders and scale the church, and with axes to hew down a space of the roof of the church to stay the fire, at the least to save some part of the church: which was concluded”.

“Old” St Paul’s was built after 1087 by the  Bishop Maurice and his successors. There is a model of Old St Paul’s in the Museum of London – it measured 600’ in length, and was between 460-520’ high including the spire.

That’s your Tudor Minute for today. Remember you can dive deeper into life in 16th century England through the Renaissance English History Podcast at englandcast.com.