The royal coat of arms

  • For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme,  or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right.  For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish.  As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil. Honour everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honour the emperor. (1 Peter 2:13–17, NRSV)

This early letter reflects the fact that if the early Church was to survive then challenging the Roman authorities was not on the agenda. This policy did not prevent occasional fierce persecution when Christians believed that the authorities had crossed a red line—for instance, by requiring worship of the Emperor—but on the whole it enabled the Church evolve into a model of a new inclusive society that became an implicit judgement on the status quo: until Christianity itself became the status quo when the empire adopted it as its official religion during the fifth century of the common era. 

Wren’s era was at least as tense as those early Christian decades. Following the civil war, King Charles I had been executed in 1649, only seventeen years before the Fire of London: and for most of those seventeen years England had been a republic. The monarchy had only been restored in 1660, and the installation of large royal coats of arms in prominent positions in Wren’s churches was an expression of hope for a period of stability following the turbulence. 

The Arms are those of the House of Stuart. Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660 and was succeeded by his brother James II in 1685. Opposite the Royal Arms you can see James’ cypher, or monogram above the reredos. His initials are surrounded by the Garter (the symbol of the Order of the Garter) and held up by two winged cherubs.

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