The Virtual Paul’s Cross Project: Documenting the Experience of Public Preaching at Paul’s Cross, London, in the Post-Reformation Period


The goal of this project is to recreate as accurately as possible the experience of hearing a sermon delivered at Paul’s Cross, in the north east part of the churchyard of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London in the early 17th century. This project will provide new evidence for understanding the function of the Paul’s Cross sermon in English social and political life.  


This recovery of spaces and events that are lost to us will be made possible through the use of architectural modeling software and acoustic simulation software, digital tools customarily used by architects and designers to anticipate the visual and acoustic properties of spaces that are not yet constructed.  


Among the goals of this project are exploring how well the crowds who gathered for a sermon at Paul’s Cross could have heard the sermon being delivered, including examples of the aural experience of these sermons from different locations in the Cross Churchyard and in the presence of different sized crowds. 

Central to the functioning of Paul’s Cross as a venue for public discourse between rulers and ruled in early-modern England was the actual experience of hearing sermons delivered to crowds of people in an outdoor space in the midst of urban London.  


This evidence will help us evaluate the communicative power of the unamplified voice and its power to transcend competition from ambient noise such as the sounds of horses, dogs, birds, and the water coursing through the city’s open sewers, as well as the sounds of carriages and hooves beating on cobblestone streets. 


We will also have evidence to bear on broader questions, such as whether the large number of Paul’s Cross sermons that were published is a testimony to the popularity of their oral presentation or whether publication was necessary simply to promote distribution of the sermons, since not all that many people could hear them when they were first delivered.


To create this information, we will use the architectural modeling software to integrate into a visual, 3-dimensional model of Paul’s Churchyard both the extensive body of visual evidence that survives about the appearance of Paul’s Churchyard and the Cathedral and new archaeological evidence about the actual size of historic buildings and spaces in this part of London.  

Acoustic simulation software will recreate the acoustic properties of this space, approximating the experience of hearing a sermon delivered at Paul’s Cross by people at different positions in the crowd by integrating the ambient noise of early modern London with a performance of John Donne’s sermon delivered at Paul’s Cross on September 15, 1622 recorded in original pronunciation by an actor in an anechoic chamber.