Mellitus, the saint who retook London from barbarians

“Mellitus?” said the guide with an air of surprise. I felt as if I had gone into Waitrose and asked for something quaint —like a hogs-head of mead.

After all, it’s tricky finding a Londoner who has heard of Mellitus. But Vivien Kermath is one of the accredited red-sashed guides of St Paul’s Cathedral. She knows her stuff.

“Of course,” she said. “Mellitus. AD 604. He built the first of several churches that have been on this site. Come this way, we have an icon.” “An icon?” I boggled.

We walked through the great church of Christopher Wren, past memorials of Nelson and Wellington. We passed where Lady Diana Spencer consecrated her ill-fated union to the Prince of Wales, and the list of former deans, including John Donne and his illustrious predecessor, Alexander Nowell, who discovered how to bottle beer – “probably his greatest contribution to humanity”, said Vivien.

At the far end of the church we came to the American memorial chapel, and there – perched above an illuminated book recording the names of the 28,000 Americans who gave their lives in the Second World War — is Mellitus.