It is the 21st of June 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1675. Two books were published this year that would change the world in their own ways. Phillip Jakob Spener, a young pastor who was born during the Thirty Years War, blended a reformation theology with a pre-Reformation spirituality in his "Pia Desideria." This work, the so-called "Pious Desires," started as a forward to a work by Lutheran pastor Johann Arndt. Spener, with this work, would become the so-called father of Pietism, a controversial sect within Lutheranism.
And Baruch Spinoza published his "Ethics." Spinoza was under an Imperial ban, yet he continued to publish his works that were considered blasphemous. He is likely best described as a pantheist. We could squabble about terminology, but he was undoubtedly outside the mainstream of Christian or those broadly deist philosophers. In Spinoza's work, he put forth an ethic based on happiness that only recognized reason as a guide. The de-mystified or de-deified approach is commonplace today, but for the time, it was groundbreaking and controversial.
Charles II was up to his tricks in 1675. The King, who restored the monarchy after the interregnum of Cromwell, continued to ruffle the feathers of his English subjects. He arranged a secret treaty with Catholic absolutist Louis XIV of France that paid Charles 500,000 crowns for two subsequent years. This action allowed Charles to raise an army and then dissolve Parliament, and in light of King Phillip's War breaking out in the colonies, set the stage for eventual revolution. King Philip's War was the last armed skirmish between natives and immigrants in the New England area. It was named King Phillip's War after the Wampanoag chief Metacom who took the English name, Philip. Also known as Metacom's War, or the first Indian War, it started in 1675 and ended in an English/Colonial victory three years later.
Charles II did use some of this money for a better cause. It was in 1675 that the construction began on the Royal Greenwich Observatory. The observatory, built on the prime meridian, lent itself to creating Greenwich Meantime, the basis for all of our time zones. It was the first observatory to employ an official astronomer. The first royal Astronomer was John Flamsteed. He lived at the observatory, which can also go by the name of the Flamsteed House. And it wasn't a bad house to live and work. It was designed by Christopher Wren, the famed Restoration era architect.
And it was a busy year for Christopher Wren, as it was on this day, the 21st of June in 1675, that the cornerstone was laid for the rebuilding of St. Pauls' Cathedral. This building would be his largest and, arguably, most significant accomplishment. There had been a church on Ludgate Hill since the seventh century. The Hill is the highest point in the city, but maybe its visibility wasn't so helpful as it became a center of attention for those who would make a point by desecrating or destroying it. We know it had to be rebuilt at least three times and was damaged many times. From Saxons to Normans to Henry VIII, the church was looted, burned, bombings were attempted, and finally, in 1666, it succumbed to the Great Fire of London.
And so, Wren had the responsibility to recreate this icon of Englishness. Wren discarded the popular Gothic style for this project. As the first Cathedral to be built or rebuilt since the Reformation, Wren wanted a distinct look. And so, he, like many in his age, adopted classical themes. One critic said of the church that "There was an air of Popery about the gilded capitals, the heavy arches ... They were unfamiliar, un-English." Yet, it has become an icon of Englishness again. Home to Europe's largest crypt, it is the final resting place for John Donne, Florence Nightingale, William Blake, and others. It plays a role in the original “Mary Poppins” movie as well as recently in “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” and the new “Sherlock Holmes.” It is often a symbol that means London.
The famous bell tower is the home to Big Tom. The five-ton mega bell is tolled at the death of royal family members or high-ups in the Anglican church. It was last used for this purpose at the death of the Queen Mother in 2002. It has been tolled for one American. An arrangement was made for James Garfield on the occasion of his death by assassination. A church for 1400 years, but a new building for almost 350 years, the cornerstone was laid on this day, the 21st of June, in 1675.
The reading for today comes from another 17th century Englishman, the Puritan John Bunyan. This is from his “Pilgrims Progress.” It comes from the moment the main character, Christian, loses his burden:
"Thus far did I come laden with my sin;
Nor could aught ease the grief that I was in
Till I came hither: What a place is This!
Must here be the beginning of my bliss?
Must here the burden fall from off my back?
Must here the strings that bound it to me crack?
Blest Cross! blest Sepulchre! blest rather be
The Man that was put to shame for me".
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 21st of June 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man with very pious desires for the perfect roast, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.