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John Donne's 1622 gunpowder sermon recreated

Posted on: September 3, 2013 4:54 PM
See and hear a John Donne sermon in 1622 London
Photo Credit: The Virtual Paul's Cross Project
Related Categories: Americas, England

Anglicans around the world can now get a feel for what it was like to attend a sermon given on November 5 1622 by English poet, satirist, lawyer and a cleric in the Church of England John Donne.

This has been made possible through the work of an international team of scholars, engineers, actors, and linguists who have sought to recreate "what we know, or can surmise, 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 site, at http://vpcp.chass.ncsu.edu uses visual and acoustic modeling technology and combines visual images from the 16th and 17th centuries with measurements of these buildings made during archaeological surveys of their foundations, still in the ground in today’s London.

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.

The official site explains more, "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.

"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."

Visitors are also able to explore the visual model in detail on a fly around video go here: http://vpcp.chass.ncsu.edu/fly-around-the-visual-model/. This is especially dramatic if viewed in HD video and at Full Screen display.

The project 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 1620's, during John Donne’s tenure as Dean of the cathedral. This visual model will be the basis for an acoustic model of the cathedral’s interior, especially the Choir, which will be the site for restaging a full day of worship services, including Bible readings, prayers, liturgies from the Book of Common Prayer, sermons, and music composed by the professional musicians on the cathedral’s staff for performance by the cathedral’s organist and its 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’s nave, known as Paul’s Walk, to see and be seen and to exchange the latest gossip of the day.