*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 30th of October 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
IF you’ve listened to the show in the past couple of days you might remember the serendipity of a few topics overlapping on different shows. Now, please dear listener, do not feel obliged to listen to every show, or even to the shows in order. You don’t have to listen to those for this show to make sense, but if you have listened- lucky you!
One of the things we talked about on the show about Emperor Constantine was his complete makeover of the church. One effect was that Christians no longer had to worship in secret, at home, or in nondescript buildings. The building of magnificent churches began. Constantine also transformed the role of the bishop. They were no longer only pastoral overseers but now political figures imbued with a sense of regal pomp. Their churches were called “Cathedrals” after the “cathedra” which had once been the name of a humble teacher's chair. Cathedrals would (and still do) pepper the skylines of every metropolis in Europe and beyond.
At the Reformation the question was asked, should there be bishops and therefore Cathedrals? Many answered in the negative but a few would moderate. The English under Henry VIII broke from the Catholic Church, but this new Anglican Church would see Bishops as essential to the unity of the church and state. And it was in the diocese of London (btw Diocese is another Greek word brought in to use via Constantine) that the famed St. Paul’s Cathedral serves as the seat of the Bishop of London.
And this St. Paul’s has quite a story (we’ve done a show on it before) especially in that so very tumultuous 17th century in England. With Civil Wars raging, Anglicans fighting Puritans all fighting Catholics, it seems fitting that in 1666 the Cathedral would burn with the rest of the City in the Great Fire of London. Rebuilding the Cathedral would be of utmost concern for Charles II- a king trying to keep the religious peace. And so he turned to one of the more remarkable men in Early Modern England- he was an Anglican, an Astronomer, and an Architect; he was Sir Christopher Wren who was born on this day in 1632 (and ok, the English will say October 20th because they were still on the Julian calendar but we say nuts to that).
Wren grew up in privilege, his family members staunch Anglicans and Royalists (to be fair, this is one-and-the-same, to be Anglican meant to recognize the Monarchy as the head of the church). His family fraternized with the Stuart’s and Christopher would be a playmate of the future Charles II. Christopher went to Westminster but when the Civil War broke out he had to flee. After the regicide of Charles I the Wren family had to live on the lam (Wren's uncle was captured and sent to the Tower of London).
Christopher was able to continue his schooling at Oxford where he shot through the ranks. Entered in 1649 by 1653 he had completed his degree and was elected to be a fellow. He stayed at Oxford until he became a professor of Astronomy at Gresham College in London. He was a founding member of the Royal Society and after the Restoration of the Monarchy was involved in the planning for rebuilding the city. And then the Great Fire hit. King Charles II named his childhood friend Commissioner for Rebuilding the City of London and Surveyor for Rebuilding City Churches. It was in this capacity that he began the work of a lifetime: the restoration of St. Paul’s Cathedral- one of the most important symbols for the Anglican Church.
Historians have noted that the Cathedral seems to fit more with Catholic Counter-Reformation architecture- and it does. It would have been seen as a radical fusion of baroque complexity, classical grandeur, and a uniquely renaissance flair: the dome.
Wren’s accomplishments are legion- I’d like to tell you the story about the horse's eye and the dog's spleen but we haven't time on this episode. Wren supervised the rebuilding of the city and some 50 churches.
He was 43 when St. Paul’s began reconstruction- it took 35 years to complete but Wren saw it as he lived into his 91st year. He is buried in a simple tomb at the Cathedral but the inscription reads “Here in its foundations lies the architect of this church and city, Christopher Wren, who lived beyond ninety years, not for his own profit but for the public good. Reader, if you seek his monument – look around you.
Today we remember the Anglican, the Astronomer, and the Architect who was born on this day in 1632.
The reading comes from Ephesians 2:
19 So now you are no longer strangers and aliens. Rather, you are fellow citizens with God’s people, and you belong to God’s household. 20 As God’s household, you are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 The whole building is joined together in him, and it grows up into a temple that is dedicated to the Lord. 22 Christ is building you into a place where God lives through the Spirit.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 30th of October 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man whose personal aesthetic screams “baroque complexity and classical grandeur” He is Christoper Gillespie.
The show is written and read by who was one of the bassists for the thrash metal band “the Horse’s Eye and Dog’s Spleen” I am 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.