latimes - It isn't much to look at: a gray lump of rock behind an ugly metal grill, attached to an even uglier building. You have to crouch down to see it, and its admittedly modest (or maybe nonexistent) charm can seem trifling compared with the glories of St. Paul's Cathedral or Westminster Abbey.
Unloved and neglected, lost in the shadows of gleaming bank towers and the bustle of a city hard at work, the London Stone gets short shrift from the tourist hordes and even Londoners themselves. But it's one of the city's most ancient and storied relics. Modern legend even says London's existence depends on it.
This chunk of limestone has sat in or around the same spot on present-day Cannon Street, in London's financial district, for at least one millennium, possibly two, throwing up mysteries and inspiring myths as to its origins and purpose.
Was it a mile marker? Did it represent the center of London? Was it a place of sacrifice, a symbol of authority, a source of mystical power, a guardian spirit?
No one knows for sure. But Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and poet William Blake all wrote about the stone. One 15th century rebel declared himself ruler of London by striking it with his sword.
Its fame put it among an elite group of rocks and boulders in the British Isles: Stonehenge in southern England, the Blarney Stone in Ireland and the Stone of Scone in Scotland, which is still used in the coronation of British kings and queens.
Unlike the others, however, the London Stone has slipped out of the collective consciousness.
"It's an iconic stone, but I don't think many people know about it," said Andy Round, who works at a nearby financial firm. "If you stop people on Cannon Street and ask, 'What is the London Stone?' they'd probably look at you blankly."
Although it's not much bigger than a hatbox now, the block once crowned a larger slab set deep in the ground. Grooves along the top appear to attest to some sort of human use.
According to John Clark, an expert in medieval history who worked for many years at the Museum of London, the stone may have been brought here by the Romans and erected as a monument in the forecourt of a grand palace close to the current site. Or perhaps the Saxons planted it there, smack in the center of a new grid of streets built under King Alfred, who resurrected London in 886 after it was sacked by the Vikings.
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THE LONDON STONE
heritage-key - The London Stone is one of the city's most mysterious and maligned ancient treasures. Not only is its provenance largely a mystery and entwined in myth and uncertainty, but its current predicament sees it visible only through a small grill on one of London's busiest commercial streets. What is known, however, is that it is of Roman origin - and was possibly used as a milestone to mark out distances between all the cities of newly-conquered Britannia. Yet rumours abound that it was brought to the city by Brutus the Trojan, the legendary founder of London. 'So long as the Stone of Brutus is safe, so London will flourish," says a centuries-old proverb. Thus the London Stone's removal, like the Tower of London's ravens, is said to forebode the city's destruction. Its supposed power was at its zenith during the middle ages, when it was believed that anyone who touched the stone would ritually take control of London. The fable was cemented in folklore when Jack Cade, the leader of a peasants' revolt against King Henry VI's monarchy in 1450, struck the Stone with his sword, claiming himself to be the Lord of London.
The Stone enjoyed a renaissance during the Victorian age, when it was set into an ornate stone casing on the side of St. Swithin's Church in Cannon Street. Yet the church was badly damaged during the Second World War, and the stone had to be moved to a new building on the same site. There it has stayed, through many changes of ownership of the building - even having been swamped by advertising hordings until recently while its home became a sports shop - and today rests inside a metal grating at knee height, sometimes backlit at night.
Myths and Mystery of the 'London Stone'
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