English Works of John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester (1469-1535): Sermons and Other Writings, 1520-1535

By John Fisher; Cecilia A. Hatt | Go to book overview

3 Preaching at Paul's Cross

The tradition of preaching at Paul's Cross was a long one, beginning approximately with the thirteenth century and lasting until the pulpit structure was demolished in 1643. The cross or station itself seems to have antedated the church from which it later took its name and although Paul's Cross soon became a place for preaching, the act of speaking publicly there was, almost from the start, invested with a social and political significance not necessarily subordinate to the religious content of what was said.

The site of Paul's Cross was east of Canon's Alley, not far from the NE corner of old St Paul's. The north wall of Wren's cathedral is practically on the line of the south side of the cross and there is a present-day memorial nearby with an inscription. Before there was any structure on the site in the thirteenth century it was the place for regular folk moots. According to William Paley Baildon, 1 such moots developed in the Hundred courts, which had judicial powers. These meeting places were often given names ending in -stone or -cross.

The first documentary evidence of an assembly at Paul's Cross is in 1241, although people had been meeting informally there for some time: in 1191 a William Fitz-Osborne made a seditious speech in the vicinity (Baildon believes this was given actually inside the church). At any rate the site's role as a kind of public noticeboard was determined by the end of the thirteenth century; bulls were published there in 1261 and 1270 and an excommunication pronounced in 1269. The earliest formal record of preaching is 1330, but it would seem that the Church was already regarding the cross as an adjunct to the cathedral, because in 1320-1, the mayor and citizens of London brought a suit against the dean and chapter of St Paul's for enclosing part of the space traditionally used for the folk moot. The mayor and citizens must have lost their case, because the land stayed enclosed, but the cross continued to be used for secular as well as ecclesiastical purposes. 2

By now the tradition of preaching at Paul's Cross was well established; in 1356-7 Richard Fitzralph, Archbishop of Armagh, preached a series of sermons against the mendicant orders and in 1387, the Archbishop of Canterbury, William

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