Ever wish you could visit a great moment in history? Until we figure out time travel, carefully crafted virtual journeys will have to suffice.
At the convergence of church and state in 17th-century England was a pulpit in the churchyard of St. Paul's Cathedral called Paul's Cross. There, crowds would gather -- joined by members of the monarchy on occasion -- to hear announcements of official policies and weekly Sunday sermons.
In 1622 King James published a document called "Directions Concerning Preachers," an effort to tamp down what he saw as too-adventurous preaching by some in the Church of England. John Donne (1572-1631), best remembered as a poet but then serving as the Dean of St. Paul's cathedral, was called upon to defend both King James's authority and his directive. That sermon, delivered on September 15, 1622, at Paul's Cross, exemplifies how church and state existed and worked together at that specific place in early modern London.
Less than 50 years later, the old St. Paul's was destroyed in the Great Fire of London. The cathedral that stands today was built between 1675 and 1710.
It's never easy to imagine what it would have been like to be present at any particular moment in history, a task made all the more difficult if the site of that moment no longer exists. But students of English history can't help but wonder, what would John Donne have sounded like? Would it have been possible to hear him -- in an age before microphones and speakers -- above the din of the gathered crowd and attendant animals?