Rare drawing of lost cathedral discovered

Old St Paul's Cathedral by Wenceslaus Hollar

Old St Paul's Cathedral by Wenceslaus Hollar

A rare drawing of one of the great lost churches of Britain has been discovered.  The picture of the Old St Paul's Cathedral,  made less than a decade before it was destroyed in the Great Fire, goes on auction today at Sotheby's.

The picture,  by Bohemian artist Wenceslaus Hollar, is one of only two known to have survived, showing the medieval cathedral, which stood in the City for 600 years until the blaze of 1666.  It came from a series made for an illustrated history of the cathedral by William Dugdale, who was hoping to save the building, which had fallen into disrepair after the Reformation. 

The High Altar was demolished in 1549. The nave was converted into stabling for soldiers' horses and part of the crypt and a side chapel were leased to a wine merchant and baker.  A tall steeple had collapsed during a lightning strike in 1561 and other parts of the building were unstable by 1656.

After the Great Fire of 1666, the remaining stones were cleared away and the current building, designed by court architect Sir Christopher Wren was constructed  between 1675 and 1710.

The site of St Paul's is truly ancient. A Roman temple  to Diana was the first religious building recorded here. According to Bede, the first cathedral, dedicated to St Paul,  was founded by St Ethelbert, King of Kent in 604. The wooden structure was destroyed by fire and rebuilt in stone around 675 and 685 by Erconweald, fourth Bishop of London, whose tomb became a place of pilgrimage throughout the Middle Ages.  The Anglo Saxon Chronicle records that this church was destroyed by the Vikings in 962. A third Saxon cathedral replaced this building, which was in turn destroyed by fire in 1087.

Construction of the Norman cathedral,  depicted in the picture, began immediately, under Maurice, the Bishop of London.  Built of Caen stone, brought by sea and up the River Thames, Old St Paul's became one of the largest buildings in England, much larger and higher than today's building. The course of walls around the precincts can still be traced in the names of Creed Lane, Ave Maria Lane, Paternoster Row. Old St Paul's was one of the main centres of religious activity in London for the next 450 years.

For more information on the drawing, see: browse.sothebys.com/?q=Old%20St%20Paul%27s

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