The 4th Puzzle: St. Paul’s Cathedral
The history of St Paul’s is a real historical puzzle.
Between 7 September 1940 and 10 May 1941 Nazi bombers dropped tens of thousands of tons of explosives on London.
St Paul’s Cathedral survived almost unscathed. In September 1940 alone, the Luftwaffe dropped 5,300 tons of high explosives on London in just 24 nights. The image of St Paul’s rising above the smoke of a burning London is an enduring, seemingly miraculous, symbol of the defiance of the English speaking peoples against fascism.
It’s survival of course could simply be due to good luck. All this is well known, as is the history of the present St Paul’s, designed by Sir Christopher Wren following the destruction of the previous cathedral in the Great Fire of London in 1666. What interests me is the earliest and most mysterious secrets of St Paul’s.
The present St Paul’s is believed to be the fifth Christian church on the site since the first Saxon cathedral was built by Mellitus in 604. Before that the city spent a period sparsely occupied following the expulsion of the Roman civilian administration in 409 recorded by Zosimus. It is uncertain whether the site of St Paul’s was a Christian site when Londinium was under Roman rule, but it may well have been towards the end of that period, and it most likely would have been the site of a Roman temple before that.
As to what happened after the decline and fall of the Roman Empire archeologists have found evidence that a small number of wealthy families managed to maintain a Roman lifestyle until the middle of the 5th century, inhabiting villas in the southeastern corner of the city. It was during this period that Arthur, according to legend, drew the sword from the stone in the churchyard of St Paul’s.
In Arthurian romance, a number of explanations are given for Arthur obtaining the Kingship by pulling a sword from a stone. In most accounts the act could not be performed except by “the true king,” meaning the divinely appointed king or true heir of Uther Pendragon.
In English mythology the stone which holds Arthur’s sword is “…the genius loci, the spirit of the earth beneath us…” (Catlin Matthews, Arthur and The Sovereignty of Britain). It is likely that the legend has religious significance. Secret initiations carried out by Druids in that period would have been influenced by and perhaps have been similar to the mystery school ceremonies of Greece and Egypt, which were imported into Roman Britain in the previous centuries. These mystery schools incorporated underworld reenactments of the Orphic and Eleusinian mysteries.
The anvil atop the stone in Malory’s story is an example of the allegorical symbols used to depict spiritual ties to the underworld. The anvil holding Arthur’s sword may represent the lower or animal worlds and the drawing of the sword may have a symbolic meaning related to the struggle of our human intellect over our animal instincts, as well as the power of the phalus.
The rock the anvil rests upon may be symbolic too of the lower world from where the goddess reaches upward to profess her vision and destiny. It would seem highly appropriate that Arthur’s sword would be drawn from a stone in the yard of St Paul’s if it was previously the site of a temple to a goddess. But was it?
According to long held tradition, a Roman temple to the goddess Diana once stood on Ludgate Hill at the site of St Paul’s. Diana was the goddess of the hunt, and also of the moon in Roman mythology. She was one of the three maiden goddesses, Diana, Minerva and Vesta, who swore never to marry.
Diana was regarded with great reverence by lower-class citizens and slaves, who could receive asylum in her temples. She had a shrine in Rome on the Aventine hill, dedicated by King Servius Tullius by the sacrifice of a bull.
Though today we call most pre-Christian religious buildings “temples,” the ancient pagans would have referred to a temenos, or sacred precinct. Its sacredness, often connected with a holy grove, was more important than the building itself, as the altar on which the sacrifices were made may have been outside in the grove. The building which housed the cult statue in its naos was likely to have been a rather simple structure, which is probably why no traces were found of it by Wren.
What existed there before the Roman’s chose the site for a temple is even harder to prove than any of the above. It is likely that a late iron age hill fort existed on the site and there may indeed have been an ancient grove there at one point. It is likely too that the site had cult or religious significance and that it was part of a network of Druidic sites. What the names of the gods or goddesses worshipped there were we can only guess. What rituals and sacrifices took place there we can only imagine.
But there is some evidence as to what took place in Druidic ceremonies. According to Strabo, druids stabbed a victim with a sword and divined the future from his death spasms. According to Julius Caesar, the slaves and dependents of Celts of rank would be burnt along with the body of their master as part of his funerary rites. He also describes how they built wicker figures that were filled with living humans and then burned. It is known too that Druids supervised such sacrifices. According to Cassius Dio, Boudica‘s forces impaled Roman captives during her rebellion against the Roman occupation, to the accompaniment of revelry and sacrifices in sacred groves. Boudicca burnt Londinium to the ground in AD 61 when she captured the city. Were defeated Romans sacrificed on Ludgate Hill?
Whether any of these things happened is only wild conjecture. Whatever the truth, the mystical significance of St Paul’s is hard to argue with. Two thousand years of sacrifice and prayer cannot be ignored. What do you think is the truth about the origin of St. Paul’s?
To go to the fifth puzzle click here.