Derek Keene, Arthur Burns, Andrew Saint, eds. St. Paul's: The Cathedral Church of London, 604-2004. Yale University Press: New Haven and London, 2004. xvi + 538 pp. $125.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-300-09276-9.
Reviewed by Robert Tittler (Department of History, Concordia University, Montreal)
Published on H-Albion (September, 2005)
Essay collections on the history of English cathedrals have recently become something of a fashion, with significant volumes being published over the last few years on Norwich Cathedral by Ian Atherton et al. (1996), Rochester Cathedral by Philip McAleer (1999), and Hereford Cathedral by Gerald Aylmer et al. (2000). Yet given its far greater prominence and centrality in the history of the nation, not to mention the affluence and influence of its patronal community, no such work has, or is likely to measure up to the length, weight, and virtual grandeur of this volume celebrating the fourteen-hundredth anniversary of St. Paul's Cathedral. At 538 pages, 42 chapters from 46 contributors, and 389 images, many in color, this volume requires additional digits for any standard scale by which its production might be measured. Somewhat more open to speculation are questions about what it actually offers, how it will be used, and by whom.
In order to orient the reader to its layout and guide him or her through the whole, the editors have sensibly divided the work into three parts. The eighth chapter, "Historical Overview," of part 1 provides a chronological narrative of the Cathedral's history from its archaeological site to its current state and operation, very usefully treating the Cathedral in the context of the City of London and England/Britain itself as it does so. That initial narrative survey paves the way for the more detailed discussions of specific themes in parts 2, "Up to the Reformation," and 3, "From the Reformation to the Present."
Most specific issues have been treated in one-off chapters. Some of these, especially concerning the Medieval years, amount to mere vignettes of a few pages each. Others are of more substantial length and greater moment. Several other issues have been pursued from one period to the next in separate and successive essays: "Estates and Income" in three separate essays; fabric and furnishing in five; and music in four (counting one particularly novel and welcome one by Donald Burrows on orchestras). Above and beyond the lavish and well-integrated illustrations, and the intrinsic interest of some of the one-off subjects (especially but not exclusively Burrows's as above, Diana Greenway's on historical writing, Roger Bowdler and Anne Saunders's on post-Reformation monuments, Ralph Hyde's on images of the Cathedral, James Raven's on the book trade, and Nigel Aston's on pubic culture), these "serial" essays contribute particular scholarly strengths to the volume.
Perhaps inevitably, though sometimes inexcusably, this strategy of mixing serial essays and one-offs leaves a few gaps. The treatment of music, for example, runs only from 1540, largely overlooking the medieval scene. A less excusable hiatus accrues in part 3, offering thematic essays on the period "From the Reformation to the Present" and so labeled. Part 2 having been brought to a close by Hannes Kleineke and Stephanie Howland's essay on the dean's household and daily life in the fifteenth century, part 3 opens with Gordon Higgott's chapter on Cathedral fabric to 1670. This usefully summarizes the decay and fire of the Elizabethan era, Inigo Jones's efforts at restoration, and the pre-1666 state of the building. But as if the broad chronological narrative of part 1 left nothing more particularly to be said of the Henrician and Edwardian Reformation or the Marian Counter-Reformation; the Elizabethan Settlement; the Puritan era; the Laudian "beauty of holiness"; or the Civil Wars and Interregnum, the next three chapters jump collectively to the rebuilding of the Cathedral following the Great Fire of 1666. Of the intervening 120 or so years, including the not inconsiderable episcopal tenures of, e.g., Bonner, Ridley, Grindal, Abbot, Laud, and Juxon, the thematic parts of the book merely contain essays on "Estates and Income (1540-1714)" and "Music (1540-1640)": both of them interesting, but perhaps not the most critically germane issues of their time.
By their very nature, chapters dedicated to providing historical narrative will ordinarily contain less historiographical contextualization than those dedicated to exploring particular themes. We do not expect much in this vein from the opening eight chapters and are not surprised. But only some of the thematic chapters, which have the chance, actually do situate their subjects in much broader contextual surroundings; very few indeed take up questions raised by contemporary historical methodology. Nigel Aston swims, gently but perceptibly, against this sluggish current in exploring the contestation of the public space which St. Paul's had become by the eighteenth century, and he further distinguishes his contribution with some useful contrasts with Notre Dame in Paris. But the next essay, John Wolffe's treatment of "National Occasions at St. Paul's Since 1800," reverts to the more frequent device of straightforward narrative, albeit accurate, lucid, and well chosen. This may offer source material for those interested in, for example, the role of such occasions and of the Cathedral itself in the nation's collective memory, but it omits what might well have been a useful reflection of its own on those current subjects.
In sum, different readers will find the work useful in different ways, and to different extents. It cannot be doubted that this tome would grace any coffee table which can hold its weight, and it is unlikely to be superceded any time soon as a work of reference. The general reading public will certainly enjoy owning it, and will find interesting things hoisted on deck in every single trawl. Any serious scholarly library must possess it. The scholarly reader will find it a valuable, often even definitive, source of information and reference, but will often have to make his or her own connections between the evidence offered in its pages and the larger questions which dominate current historiography. In such an effort, the complex and idiosyncratic design of the index, with its complex listing scheme under "London," and its decision to include lists of deans and bishops here (whether they have page references attached to them or not), rather than in conventional appendices, may be more burden than boon. Yet given the sponsorship of the project which produced this work, the grand occasion which required it, and the wide interest it will attract, perhaps this volume strikes the most appropriate balance after all, and is a most lavishly packaged tribute to its subject.
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Robert Tittler. Review of Keene, Derek; Burns, Arthur; Saint, Andrew, eds., St. Paul's: The Cathedral Church of London, 604-2004.
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