Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Mysterious London Stone

Embedded in the wall of 111 Cannon Street, in the City of London, just above the sidewalk, is a small grilled window that appears like a decorative skylight for an underground basement. Behind it, in a glass enclosure and dimly lit from inside, is an irregular chunk of oolitic limestone, believed to be one of London’s most ancient and important relic. But nobody remembers what it was used for.

Ignored by the thousands of Londoners who walk past the grilled window every day, the London Stone has stood in or around the same spot on present-day Cannon Street for at least a thousand years, and possibly even two. The stone’s mysterious origin has fascinated people for centuries and even appeared in the works of Shakespeare, William Blake and Dickens.

The name "London Stone" first appeared in written record around the year 1100, and was a well-known landmark in medieval London. In 1450, when Jack Cade, the leader of a peasant uprising, entered the city, he struck his sword on London Stone and declared himself the "Lord of this city", an incident immortalized by Shakespeare in "Henry VI, Part II,". By the time of Queen Elizabeth I London Stone was not merely a landmark, but a visitor attraction in its own right. Tourists flocking in to see the stone might have been told various stories regarding its origin, that it was set up by the order of King Lud, legendary rebuilder of London, as the center of the city or that it served as a place for tendering and making of payment by debtors.

As the centuries rolled by, the legends and stories became more elaborate. By the early 19th century, many writers began to believe that the stone was part of an altar or foundation dating from the time of Brutus of Troy, the legendary but probably fictional descendant of the Trojan hero Aeneas, known in medieval British legend as the founder and first king of Britain. Others suggested that it was used by the Druids as a place of worship.

The most popular explanation of the stone, that it was set up by the Romans and used as a central stone from which all distances in Roman Britain were measured, came from the 16th century London historian William Camden, even though there is no archaeological evidence to support it.

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