St. Paul’s Cathedral, which is considered to be London’s most renowned architectural masterpiece, is characterized by its world-famous dome, which continues to preside over the skylines of the city. This Anglican church is not only notable for its advanced architectural design at the time it was built, but it also serves as the residence of the Bishop of London.
Over the course of more than three hundred years, one of London’s most revered places of worship, St. Paul’s Cathedral, has been able to maintain its status as a magnificent architectural icon. The crowning achievement of Christopher Wren’s career, this masterpiece was also decades ahead of its time in terms of architectural style, incorporating aspects of the Neoclassical, Gothic, and Baroque traditions.
St Paul’s Cathedral has an interesting history. Over the course of many centuries, this structure has undergone a great deal of change and evolution. It has played a vital role in London’s history, and remains one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks.
History of St Paul’s Cathedral
Although the Roman Administration was removed in 410, Christian religion continued. In 604, a church was built over 200 years later. The early structures did not last long due to numerous fires and Viking invasions. By 962, a second structure had been built in its stead, which was eventually destroyed by the Vikings. Bishop Maurice, who was the Chaplain to William the Conqueror, started building the third building of St. Paul’s Cathedral. This building was bigger and stronger than the first two. This building has stood for almost 600 years, making it the oldest Christian building on the site.
In 1087, the Normans started the building of a fourth St. Paul’s Cathedral, known as Old St Paul’s, in the city of London. The building of the cathedral was halted by a fire in 1135, and it wasn’t finished until 1240. The cathedral’s spire was higher than the existing cathedral’s dome, making it one of the largest constructions in the British Isles.
The structure started to deteriorate in the second part of the 16th century. In 1561, lightning struck and demolished the spire. They opted not to reconstruct the cathedral since the city was recovering from a trade downturn. Inigo Jones built a west front in the 1630s, and additional restoration work was suspended when the Civil War broke out in 1642. During the conflict, Parliamentarian soldiers abused and defiled the structure. During the commonwealth, the churchyard structures were demolished.
New St Paul’s Cathedral
In 1669, the famed architect Sir Christopher Wren was given the task of creating a new structure after the Great Fire. He took inspiration from the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica and wished to include a dome in lieu of the tower, as well as other non-traditional architectural aspects. The design of the cathedral took many years, mostly because the cathedral commissioners rejected several of his suggestions. Eventually, the structure was renovated, resulting in a cathedral with one of the finest domes in Britain and the second-largest size in the country.
The cathedral was formally finished on Christmas Day, 1711, but development continued for a number of years afterwards.
Sir James Thornhill was asked to come up with a design for the inside of the dome. He was also asked to make 8 scenes from the life of St. Paul. The paintings took 2 years to finish, during which time he had to work in a dangerous way more than 50 meters above the ground. A number of sculptures were made in the late 18th century to honor artists, authors, clergy, military officials, and scientists.
In the 19th century, St. Paul’s undergone some physical changes. FC Penrose’s reorganization of the quire was among the most significant modifications. It made it possible for many more people to attend services and for worship to take place under the dome, nave, and quire.
Concerns about the cathedral’s structural integrity have been raised since the early 20th century. In 1924, the City of London issued a warning about a potentially hazardous construction. From 1925 to 1930, repairs were done on the cathedral. During this time, the dome and piers were made stronger under the command of Walter Godfrey Allen.
In 1912 and 1914, St. Paul’s Cathedral was the target of two bombings that inflicted extensive damage to the structure.
The church survived the Blitz after being bombed on October 10, 1940 and April 17, 1941. During the Blitz, the cathedral sustained more damage, with the first bomb shattering the high altar and the second creating a hole above the crypt. The cathedral’s ability to withstand the two assaults was largely attributable to the fortification work performed until 1930.
St. Paul’s Cathedral attracted international leaders, politicians, philosophers, and the general people in an effort to create a better society after the restoration of war damage and structural problems. St. Paul’s was the location of the royal wedding between Charles, Prince of Wales, and Lady Diana Spencer, his cousin. St. Paul’s cathedral was also the location of the thanksgiving ceremonies during the Golden and Diamond Jubilees of Queen Elizabeth II. In 2013, the funeral of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was also held at the cathedral.
St Paul’s Cathedral’s Exterior
The 365-foot-tall lead-covered dome that dominates views of the city is the focal point of St. Paul’s exterior. Its architecture is said to have been greatly inspired by St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, and it is one of the biggest domes in the world. Other notable external elements of the cathedral are the West Front and The Walls.
The Dome. It has been the most prominent building in London’s skyline for a long time. It has a double shell and is made up of three parts: an outer dome, a brick cone inside that supports the structure, and an inner dome. The inner dome and 18-inch-thick cone are held up by iron chains to keep them from cracking and spreading. The cross on the outside dome is almost 366 feet above the ground.
The West Front. The 30-foot-tall Great West Door is the primary entrance to St. Paul’s Cathedral’s West Front (which is only opened completely for special occasions). A columned portico and an upper columned colonnade are present. The pediment has Francis Bird’s bas-relief sculpture “Conversion of St Paul.” Three distinct sculptures of Saint James, Saint Paul, and Saint Peter stand over this pediment. Finally, the cathedral’s two bell towers known as the West Towers frame the portico on each side.
The Walls. The church’s two-story body and walls are built of granite stone and shaped like a Greek cross with arms that are almost exactly the same length.
St Paul’s Cathedral Interior
The interiors of St. Paul’s Cathedral were created with clear views of the altar and pulpit so that all guests may see and hear the Mass.
- The Dome. The inside of the dome is adorned with a stunning fresco painted by James Thornhill that represents eight incidents from the life of Saint Paul.
- The Apse and High Altar. The High Altar and the Apse are in the east part of the main floor of the cathedral. This piece serves as a tribute for those who died in World War II.
- The Clock and Bells. The West Towers are two Baroque-style bell towers on each side of St. Paul’s West Front. The southwest tower houses three clock bells, the most visible of which is the ‘Big Tom’ clock. It was built by John Smith and placed in 1893, and the bell links to the ‘Great Tom’ clock. The northwest tower has twelve bells. The ‘Great Paul’, the biggest of the statues, was first cast in 1882.
What’s Inside St Paul’s Cathedral Floor?
- The Grand Organ. Grinling Gibbons designed the Grand Organ’s casing, which was completed in 1695. With 7,189 pipes, 5 keyboards, and 138 organ stops, it is the third biggest organ in the United Kingdom. Although it has been relocated, it originally served as a screen between the nave and quire sections.
- Whispering Gallery. The Whispering gallery is the first of the Dome’s three levels and encircle the core of the structure. It is 30 meters or 257 steps above the level of the cathedral and overlooks the floor below. From there, one has a clear view of the mosaics above the dome. It derives its name, “Whispering Gallery,” from the unique architectural feature that enables two persons to whisper against the wall and hear each other from opposite sides.
- Golden Gallery. At the pinnacle of the Dome is where you’ll find the Golden Gallery. It is 85 meters from the Cathedral Floor, which is about 528 steps.
- The Crypt. The Crypt is the lowest level of St. Paul’s Cathedral. It has several graves, the Oculus, monuments, and St. Faith’s Chapel. A portion of the tombs is known as the Artist’s Corner. The huge crypt holds the graves of several important individuals, including as the artists Constable, Turner, and Reynolds. Under the south aisle are the plain tombstones of Sir Christopher Wren, the Duke of Wellington, and Lord Nelson, two of England’s greatest heroes.
St Paul’s Cathedral attracts many tourists due to its status as one of the world’s tallest and greatest historical landmarks, as well as its breathtaking architectural and religious significance. It is a must-see London attraction due to its extensive architectural history and stunning views from the dome’s peak.