Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

John Donne preaching at Paul's Cross

I have adapted the text of this post from one on the Medieval Religion discussion group about what appears to be a very interesting blend of historical and literary scholarship with modern technology.

Old St Paul’s (sermon at St Paul’s Cross)

A sermon at Paul's Cross
Panel painting by John Gipkyn (fl 1594–1629) of 1616
The view is from the north-east

Image:Society of Aniquaries

John N. Wall, Project Director and Professor of English Literature at North Carolina State University, announces that the Virtual Paul’s Cross Project website is now available for exploration online here.  The Virtual Paul’s Cross Project has been supported by a Digital Start-Up Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The Project uses visual and acoustic modeling technology to recreate the experience of John Donne, then Dean of St Paul's,  sermon at Paul’s Cross for November 5th1622. 

The aim of this initiative is to integrate what is known, or can be surmised, about the look and sound of this space, destroyed by the Great Fire of London in 1666, and about the course of activities as they unfolded on the occasion of a Paul’s Cross sermon, so that we may experience a major public event of early modern London as it unfolded in real time and in the context of its original surroundings.

The Project has sought the highest degree of accuracy in this recreation. To do so, it combines visual imagery from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries with measurements of these buildings made during archaeological surveys of their surviving foundations. The visual presentation also integrates into the appearance of the visual model the look of a November day in London, with overcast skies and an atmosphere thick with smoke.  The acoustic simulation recreates the acoustic properties of Paul’s Churchyard, incorporating information about the dispersive, absorptive or reflective qualities of the buildings and the spaces between them.  

This website allows us to explore the northeast corner of Paul’s Churchyard, outside St Paul’s Cathedral, in London, on November 5th 1622, and to hear John Donne’s sermon for Gunpowder Day, all two hours of it, in the space of its original delivery and in the context of church bells and the random ambient noises of dogs, birds, horses, and crowds of up to 5,000 people.

There is a concise guide to the whole site here.

In keeping with the desire for authenticity, the text of Donne’s sermon was taken from a manuscript prepared within days of the sermon’s original delivery that contains corrections in Donne’s own handwriting. It was recorded by a professional actor using an original pronunciation script and interpreting contemporary accounts of Donne’s preaching style.

John Donne's Paul's Cross sermon for November 5th, 1622 (in 15-minute segments), as heard from two different positions in the Churchyard, can be heard by clicking here.  

On the website, the user can learn how the visual and acoustic models were created and explore the political and social background of Donne’s sermon. In addition to the complete recordings of Donne’s Gunpowder Day sermon, one can also explore the question of audibility of the unamplified human voice in Paul’s Churchyard by sampling excerpts from the sermon as heard from eight different locations across the Churchyard and in the presence of four different sizes of crowd. For excerpts of the sermon from these eight different locations and in the presence of these differing crowd sizes click here.
The website also houses an archive of materials that contributed to the recreation, including visual records of the buildings, high resolution files of the manuscript and first printed versions of Donne’s sermon for Gunpowder Day 1622, and contemporary accounts of Donne’s preaching style. 

In addition, the website includes an acoustic analysis of the Churchyard, discussion of the challenges of interpreting historic depictions of the cathedral and its environs, and a review of the liturgical context of outdoor preaching in the early modern age.

The visual model in detail on a fly around video can be seen here.  This is especially dramatic if viewed in HD video and at Full Screen display. 

The Project is the work of an international team of scholars, engineers, actors, and linguists.  In addition to the Project Director, they include David Hill, Associate Professor of Architecture at NC State University;  Joshua Stephens, Jordan Grey, Chelsea Sacks, and Craig Johnson, graduate students in architecture at NC State University;  John Schofield, Archaeologist at St Paul’s Cathedral and author of St Paul’s Cathedral Before Wren (2011); David Crystal, linguist; Ben Crystal, actor; Ben Markham and Matthew Azevedo, acoustic engineers with Acentech, Inc; and members of the faculty in linguistics and their graduate students at NC State University, especially professors Walt Wolfram, Erik Thomas, Robin Dodsworth, and Jeff Mielke.

Wall’s team is now planning a second stage of this Project, with the goal of completing the visual model of Paul’s Churchyard, including a complete model of St Paul’s Cathedral as it looked in the early 1620s, during John Donne’s time as Dean. 

This visual model will be the basis for an acoustic model of the cathedral interior, especially the Choir, which will be the site for restaging a full day of worship, including Bible readings, prayers, liturgies from the Book of Common Prayer, sermons, and music composed by the professional musicians on the cathedral staff for performance by the organist and choir of men and boys.  

They will be competing for our attention, as they did in the 1620’s, with the noise of crowds who gathered in the cathedral nave, known as Paul’s Walk, to see and be seen and to exchange the latest gossip of the day.


John Donne

Image: Wikipedia

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