Trinity Chapel, looking Westward. Rendering by Jack McManus.

John Donne’s Role in the Construction of Trinity Chapel

John Donne was appointed Reader in Divinity at Lincoln’s Inn in 1616. When he arrived, plans to build a new chapel were underway, having begun as long ago as 1609, when the existing chapel was deemed to be “ruynous and not sufficient for the number of this Howse.” Nevertheless, fundraising for construction of a new chapel proceeded slowly at first.

Donne helped the cause, preaching a sermon in 1618 with the goal of “preparing them to build their Chapel.” The text of this sermon can be found here. While Donne was away in Germany from 1619 until 1620, Benchers of the Inn decided where on the grounds of the Inn the new chapel would be built and committed more money to its construction. One of the fundraising techniques was to promise that members of the Inn who contributed a certain amount would have their coats of arms included in the design for the chapel’s stained glass windows.

As a result, when Donne returned from Germany in 1620, he found that plans for the chapel’s construction were well along. As a result, according to the records of the Inn, Donne laid the foundation stone for the building in 1621. His sermon at the Service of Consecration can be found on its own here and in the context of our reconstruction of the entire service here.

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Donne Window, Trinity Chapel. Photograph by John N. Wall.

Donne made his own personal contribution to the £2,000 needed to build Trinity Chapel. The record of that contribution can be found in the stained glass window near the current pulpit in the Chapel (see image above). The text in Latin reads, “Io Donne Dec: S. Paul: F: F” (Iohannes Donne Decanus Sancti Pauli Fieri Fecit) or in English, “John Donne Dean of St Paul’s caused this to be made.” So Donne’s enduring contribution to the fabric of Trinity Chapel speaks to us of his role in its creation.[1]

[1] We are grateful to Diarmaid MacCulloch for his transcription and translation of the text in Donne’s window.