St Paul's Cathedral by Canaletto

2 December

Christopher Wren’s new marvel, St Paul’s Cathedral in London, was consecrated today in 1697, just 30 years after the old cathedral had burned down. The opening state sermon was given by the Bishop of London, Henry Compton, who rose from his elaborately carved throne to preach on a text from Psalm 122: ‘I was glad when they said unto me: Let us go into the house of the Lord.’

Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself Emperor of the French in Notre-Dame de Paris, today in 1804. Pope Pius VII had travelled all the way from Rome to crown Napoleon, only to be told a few hours before the ceremony that he wouldn’t even be touching the crown. He got in his retaliation first by insisting that Napoleon marry his mistress Joséphine in church the day before the coronation. Napoleon and Pius’s dysfunctional relationship continued a few years later when Napoleon had Pius kidnapped.

John Wesley quit the settlement of Georgia today in 1737. He had gone as a missionary to the Native American people and as pastor of Savannah, aiming to establish a holy community recapturing the life of the early church. The wheels came off his mission when he refused communion to Sophia Williamson, who claimed he was acting in revenge, as she had turned down his proposals of marriage. When her uncle took the case to court, Wesley fled at night, on foot, through marshland, pursued by lawsuits.

‘Being now only a prisoner at large, in a place where I knew by experience every day would give fresh opportunity to procure evidence of words I never said, and actions I never did, I saw clearly the hour was come for leaving this place; and as soon as evening prayers were over, about eight o’clock, the tide then serving, I shook off the dust of my feet, and left Georgia, after having preached the gospel there (not as I ought, but as I was able) one year and nearly nine months.’ John Wesley, Journal, 2 December 1737

John Ruusbroec, the Flemish mystic, author and spiritual director, died today in 1381. Ruusbroec was the prior of a community of brothers who lived in the Forest of Soignes, near Brussels. He became famous for offering spiritual advice to pilgrims who travelled across Germany and France to see him. In a famous story, Ruusbroec went missing in the forest one day, until one of the brothers found a tree consumed in flames, with Ruusbroec sitting beneath it in an ecstasy of prayer. He wrote several short, popular books in Dutch, opening up his vision of the contemplative life.

‘We cannot wholly become God and lose our creaturely state – that is impossible. But if we remained entirely in ourselves, separated from God, we would be miserable and deprived of salvation. We therefore feel ourselves as being entirely in God and entirely in ourselves.’ John Ruusbroec, The Sparkling Stone, translated by James A Wiseman

It is the feast of St Chromatius, a bishop and theologian who lived mostly in the 4th century. He flew under the radar of church history and is relatively unknown, but he encouraged others to write important works, including his friends Ambrose and Jerome. He was known to Jerome as Pope Chromatius, in the days when you gave the title Pope to the person who had helped you come to faith.

Image: Yale Center for British Art

Time-travel news is written by Steve Tomkins and Simon Jenkins

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