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NCSU Launches Virtual Paul’s Cross Project

Paul's Churchyard, looking east
Paul’s Churchyard, looking east

November 5 marked the 391st anniversary of poet John Donne’s Sermon for Paul’s Cross, given on Gunpowder Day, 1622. And if you’ve ever thought to yourself, “Wow, wouldn’t it be sorta neat to travel back in time and hear Donne give that sermon?” well, now you sorta have the chance.

Researchers at North Carolina State University, led by Dr. John Wall, have “an auditory and visual simulation of what it might have been like to stand in front of St Paul’s Cross pulpit in the courtyard of St. Paul’s Cathedral almost 400 years ago, being preached to by poet John Donne.”

At the Virtual St. Paul’s Cross website, visitors can fly around the visual model, listen to the acoustics (and notice how they differ depending on where one stands), and learn more about Donne, who, though now best known for his metaphysical poetry, was also Dean of St. Paul’s and an experienced preacher.

St. Paul’s was lost in the Great Fire of London in 1666, but NCSU used “historic documents and images to create a visual model showing architectural details of the gothic St .Paul’s Cathedral, and a sound model that takes account of the acoustic properties of materials such as stone, glass and brick.”

“We know that large crowds showed up to hear Donne’s sermons, but it was unclear whether they could even hear what was being said,” said Dr. Wall. “By using the models we created for this project, we learned that the courtyard space allowed sound to reverberate, amplifying the voice of the speaker.”

He continued: “This means the sermon had to be delivered at a measured pace to keep the speech from being garbled as the reverberating sounds overlapped. Those are insights we wouldn’t have without this project.”

Dr. John Wall will offer additional performances on the following days/times:

  • Monday November 25, 9:00 am
  • Tuesday November 26, 4:00 pm
  • Wednesday December 4, 9:00 am
  • Wednesday December 11, 9:00 am

To learn more about the Virtual St. Paul’s Cross project, click here.