by Patience Agbabi

Patience Agbabi is author of four books, and her contemporary version of The Canterbury Tales, Telling Tales was published in 2014.

Historical Context

St Paul’s Cross has for centuries been a recognised outdoor meeting place for civil and ecclesiastical gatherings: a cathedral has probably existed on the same site for more than 1,400 years. The fourth, finished in 1327, is known as old St Paul’s. In 1666, it was destroyed by the Great Fire of London. The only statue that remained was that of John Donne, poet and Dean of St Paul’s (1621–1631) who gave electrifying sermons at St Paul’s Cross.

It’s alleged that when Christopher Wren began rebuilding the cathedral, he began with the dome. He asked a labourer to bring a stone to mark the exact centre. By astonishing coincidence, his random stone happened to be part of a gravestone bearing the single word, ‘RESURGAM’ (‘I shall rise again.’)

In 2011, Occupy London spearheaded an uprising, a protest against corporate greed. A march on the London Stock Exchange was moved on and assembled outside St Paul’s, where protesters set up camp. Initially welcomed by the cathedral, the camp was evicted four months later by the City of London Corporation. A year later, four women from Christianity Uncut, ‘The St Paul’s Four’, disrupted evensong by chaining themselves to the pulpit and challenging the cathedral’s links with the city.

Rise Up 

by Patience Agbabi


I’m sitting here, with a dome for sky,
a Stop the City march for walls,
my 2-man tent outside St Pauls
pitched to bear fruit and multiply;
NEED, NOT GREED! the banners cry,
we’ve cut our mind-forged manacles—
saints, sinners, radicals,
we come in peace to occupy:
dome tents, purple, orange, red,
spark an idea; I let it roam…
Wren’s pièce de resistance, the dome
crackles and spits inside my head…
imagination paints the town:
St Paul’s cathedral’s burning down!


St Paul’s cathedral’s burning down
to a blank page; even the Thames
can’t conquer it; a ring of flames
its mighty dome, a molten crown
raining firedrops in the round;
mosaics shatter in their frames;
Tyndale’s translation and King James
smolder and char to abstract noun:
and yet the Word persists outdoors,
free-flowing speech in rain and sun;
St Paul’s Cross, where the dean, John Donne,
would often preach a moral cause.
From hot debate, I’ll reinvent
this temple—as a silken tent.


The template for a silken tent:
a poem-church, a work of art,
The Bright Field, Batter My Heart,
embroidered on its firmament;
a meeting place, for those intent
on countering the Shopping Cart,
the hoarse cry of the city’s mart;
temple of cloth, yet permanent;
let The Bible reinterpret
new from old in poem-song
and let it sing from a pierced tongue
King James’s lyric, Tyndale’s spirit.
Fired by the Word and Wren,
I resurrect St Paul’s again.


To resurrect St Paul’s again
I sing foundations yet to be,
We build the wall to keep us free…
I sing the quire’s hand-carved grain:
I sing the choir’s sharp refrain,
The enemy is poverty:
a girl sings at the offertory
a deep cut for a mouth. Unchain
heart, be the organ of my blues:
our daily bread is furred with mould
and yet the super rich eat gold!
Sing, banner! WHAT WOULD JESUS DO?
A man tightens his belt and faints:
St Paul’s Four, sinners or saints?


St Paul’s four, sinners or saints?
Come, gatecrashers of evensong,
come, anti-corporate amazons
resurrecting just complaints.
The pulpit groans with the restraints
that symbolise this global wrong.
Welcome to the merry throng,
speak from the heart without constraint!
Their uprising, their urgent act
staged on the old cathedral floor
is carved in stone; The St Paul’s Four
will be embedded, sacrosanct
a ritual that will never cease
in my recycled edifice.


In my recycled edifice
all paper notes will disappear;
and may the altar frontal be a
patchwork banner LOVE and PEACE.
As the sun rises in the east
I raise a dome: an inner sphere
reverberating its idea
outwards to match Wren’s masterpiece.
My galleries are whispering
themselves into mosaic rounds;
the peals of laughter from the grounds
form into ten ton bells, and ring:
to make this world a better place
we gather in this sacred space.


We gather in this sacred space
sculpted from poem, lyric, text
to bow or raise our heads: connect
with and beyond the human race.
I set this house on fire to raise
hope from a blank white page; reflect
the outside in; play architect
with form, in chanting uppercase;
as, from the ash, the grave—the word
‘RESURGAM’: I shall rise again;
from rubble, gold; from ruin, gain;
out of a stone, a phoenix soared.
One word, a word with wings, that’s why
I’m sitting here, with a dome for sky.

Commissioned by Poet in the City and St Paul's Cathedral for Under the Skin 2016 ©

Audio recordings by Kieran Lucas. Photographs by Graham Lacdao.