St. Faith's under St. Paul's
January 12, 2011
Humphrey Moseley was buried in St Gregory by Paul's on February 4th 1661. Of the 86 churches that were destroyed by the Great Fire, Wren decided to rebuild 51, but St Gregory's was not among them, so I can't go and pay my respects. I go instead to St Paul's to see if I can find St Faith's under Paul's, where the Stationers worshipped.
I head for the crypt. I wander past Nelson's great monument placed directly under the dome, and a bust of Lawrence of Arabia (not as good as the one in Dorset by Eric Kennington, who was one of his pall bearers at his funeral in 1935, and who also did the bas reliefs at the front of the Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford).Eventually I discover, with the help of one of the guides, a line on the floor, at the back of the crypt, to the north side of the OBE Chapel. The line is made up of white tessitura, and an inscription runs along it, indicating that this is the line of the wall of the old church of St Faith's virgin and martyr.
I cross over the mosaic line and step in to St Faith's under Paul's, while Paulina's line from The Winter's Tale runs in my head: 'It is required you do awake your faith'. The flagstones beneath my feet were the floor of the crypt. It was into this crypt, with its stone vaulted ceiling, on Tuesday 7th September 1666 which the booksellers, the stationers, ran with their stock, piling their books against the walls, trying to save them from the fire that had broken out in Pudding Lane.
On that day in 1666, John Evelyn records in his diary his walk that morning from Whitehall as far as London Bridge. He describes 'clambering over heaps of yet smoking rubbish' with extraordinary difficulty, frequently mistaking where he was. The ground underneath him was still so hot is burned the soles of his shoes. He finds 'that goodly church St Paul's now a sad ruin.' The portico is 'split asunder', and the immense stones had been 'calcin'd and turned white by the heat so that all the ornaments, columns, freizes, capitals and projectures of Portland stone flew off, even to the very roof, where a sheet of lead covering a great space (no less than 6 acres by measure) was totally melted.' He then reveals a telling detail: 'The ruins of the vaulted roof falling, broke into St Faith's which being filled with the magazines of books belonging to the stationers, and carried thither for safety, they were all consumed, burning for a week following.'
St Faith's under St Paul's, as it was known, was an unusual parish within the city. The actual church had been physically removed in the middle of the 13th century to allow for the eastern expansion of the Old Cathedral. It was here that the booksellers who plied their trade in the churchyard of St Paul's, and in Paternoster Row, worshipped. And it was into this crypt chapel that as the fire caught hold they had transferred their stock for safekeeping. And as the roof of the cathedral collapsed, it was into this crypt that six acres of molten lead poured in glistening arcs, destroying everything within.
St Faith, the patron saint of the ghost church, (or Saint Foy, or Santa Fe) was a French girl from Aquitaine who was tortured for her faith under the Emperor Diocletian. Miracles associated with St Faith are called 'joca', the Latin for tricks or jokes. Ironically considering the fate of the vast quantity of books, St Faith was burnt to death on a red hot brazier. No miracle but a sad, sick joke. Perhaps after all the booksellers should not have put so much faith in their patron saint. I can't help wondering: was the manuscript of Cardenio destroyed in the fire in St Faith's?
by Greg Doran
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