St Paul’s Cathedral is a Church of England cathedral and seat of the Bishop of London. Its dedication to Paul the Apostle dates back to the original church on this site, founded in 604. The cathedral is located at the top of Ludgate Hill, the highest point in the City of London, and is the mother church of the Diocese of London.
St Paul’s Cathedral is a busy working church, with hourly prayer and daily services. Important services held at St Paul’s over the years include the funerals of Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington and Sir Winston Churchill; Jubilee celebrations for Queen Victoria; peace services marking the end of the two World Wars; the wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales, and Lady Diana Spencer, the launch of the Festival of Britain and the thanksgiving services for both the Golden and the Diamond Jubilee, and 80th Birthday of Elizabeth II.
The apse of the cathedral is home to the American Memorial Chapel. It honours American servicemen and women who died in World War II, and was dedicated in 1958. The Roll of Honour contains the names of more than 28,000 Americans who gave their lives while on their way to, or stationed in, the United Kingdom during World War II. It is located in front of the chapel’s altar. The three chapel windows date from 1960; they feature themes of service and sacrifice, while the insignia around the edges represent the American states and the US armed forces. The limewood panelling incorporates a rocket – a tribute to America’s achievements in space.
The cathedral has a very substantial crypt that holds over 200 memorials and serves as both the Order of the British Empire Chapel and the Treasury. Christopher Wren was the first person to be interred, in 1723: on the wall above his tomb it says, ‘Lector, si monumentum requiris, circumspice’ (Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you). St Paul’s is home to other plaques, carvings, statues, memorials and tombs of well-known British figures, including Winston Churchill, Alexander Fleming, Henry Moore and Florence Nightingale. The cathedral has been the site of many famous funerals, including those of Horatio Nelson, Winston Churchill and George Mallory. Most of the memorials commemorate the British military, including several lists of servicemen who died in action, the most recent being the Gulf War.
According to the tradition recorded by Bede, the first Saxon cathedral was built by Mellitus in AD 604 in Lundenwic. The unproven conjecture that it occupied the site of the present cathedral is supported by the fact that it was these missionaries’ habit, as in mainland Europe, to build cathedrals within Roman cities.
However, the Roman city of London, then called Lundenburh, was unoccupied at that time, unlike conditions in the areas of continental Europe where there was continuity of urban occupation and ecclesiastic succession. Wherever its predecessor was sited, the successor building within the reoccupied City (built ca 886) was destroyed in a ‘most fatal fire’ in 962, as mentioned in the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’. The construction of the third cathedral started the same year. The church burnt, with the whole city, in a fire in 1087, again noted in the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’.
The fourth St Paul’s, known when architectural history arose in the 19th century as Old St Paul’s, was begun by the Normans after the 1087 fire. Work took over 200 years and a great deal was lost in a fire in 1136. The church was first consecrated in 1240, but an enlargement programme was commenced in 1256. The cathedral was consecrated again in 1300. When it was completed in 1314, it was the third-longest church in Europe and had one of Europe’s tallest spires, at about 149 metres. Excavations made in 1878 showed that it was 178 metres long and 30 metres wide.
By the 16th century the building was decaying. Under Henry VIII and Edward VI, the Dissolution of the Monasteries and Chantries Acts led to the destruction of interior ornamentation and the cloisters, charnels, crypts, chapels, shrines, chantries and other buildings in St Paul’s Churchyard. In 1561 the spire was destroyed by lightning and it was not replaced; this event was taken by both Protestants and Roman Catholics as a sign of God’s displeasure at the other faction’s actions.
‘Old St Paul’s’ was greatly damaged in the Great Fire of London of 1666. While it might have been salvageable, albeit with almost complete reconstruction, a decision was made to build a new cathedral in a modern style instead.
The task of designing a replacement structure was officially assigned to Sir Christopher Wren on 30 July 1669. Wren had begun advising on the repair of the cathedral before the Great Fire of 1666, in fact as early as 1661. After the fire, the ruins of the building were still thought to be workable, but ultimately the entire structure was demolished in the early 1670s to start afresh.
St Paul’s went through five general stages of design. The final design was strongly rooted in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Wren received permission from the king to make ‘ornamental changes’ to the submitted design, and Wren took great advantage of this. The saucer domes that were eventually added to the design were inspired by François Mansart’s Val-de-Grâce, which Wren had seen during a trip to Paris in 1665. The day the first stone of the cathedral was laid is disputed. There is, however, general agreement that it occured in June 1675. On 2 December 1697, thirty-two years and three months after a spark from Farryner’s bakery had caused the Great Fire of London, St Paul’s Cathedral came into use. The ‘topping out’ of the cathedral (when the final stone was placed on the lantern) took place in October 1708 and the cathedral was declared officially complete by Parliament on 25 December 1711. In fact, the construction was to continue for several years after that, with the statues on the roof being added in only the 1720s.
On 12 September 1940 a time-delayed bomb that had struck the cathedral was successfully defused and removed by a bomb disposal detachment of Royal Engineers. Had this bomb detonated, it would have totally destroyed the cathedral, as it left a 30-metre crater when it was later remotely detonated in a secure location.
The present church dating from the late 17th century was built to an English Baroque design of Sir Christopher Wren, as part of a major rebuilding programme which took place in the city after the Great Fire of London. At 111 metres high, it was the tallest building in London from 1710 to 1962, and its dome is also among the highest in the world.
n terms of area, St Paul’s is the second largest church building in the United Kingdom after Liverpool Cathedral. The cathedral is one of the most famous and most recognisable sights of London, with its dome, framed by the spires of Wren’s City churches, dominating the skyline for 300 years.
The cathedral is built of Portland stone in a late Renaissance style that represents Wren’s vision of a rationalised English Baroque. Its impressive dome was inspired by St Peter’s Basilica in Rome and Mansart’s Church of the Val-de-Grâce, which Wren had visited. It rises 108 metres to the cross at its summit, dominating both the historic and modern City of London through the Baroque device of axial perspectives or ‘viewing corridors’ across the cityscape.
Wren achieved a balance between interior and exterior by constructing three domes nested one inside the other: the tall outer dome is non-structural and raised above the mass of the cathedral to suit distanced views; the lower inner dome provides a harmoniously balanced interior; between the two a structural cone supports the apex lantern and the outer dome.
The nave has three small chapels in the two adjoining aisles – The Chapel of All Souls and The Chapel of St Dunstan in the north aisle and the Chapel of St Michael and St George in the south aisle. The main space of the cathedral is centred under the inner dome, which rises 108.4 metres from the cathedral floor and holds three circular galleries – the internal Whispering Gallery, the external Stone Gallery, and the external Golden Gallery.
The Whispering Gallery runs around the inside of the dome 30.2 metres above the cathedral floor. It is reached by 259 steps from the ground level. Its name comes from the acoustic effects peculiar to domes; a whisper against its wall at any point is audible to a listener with an ear held to the wall at any other point around the gallery.
The base of the inner dome is situated 53.4 metres above the floor. Its top is about 65 metres above the floor, making this the greatest height of the enclosed space. The cathedral is about 37 metres in width and 175 metres in length, including a 68-metre nave and a 51-metre choir.
The quire extends to the east of the dome and holds the stalls for the clergy and the choir, as well as the organ. To the north and south of the dome are the transepts, here called the North Choir and the South Choir.
The 5.8-metre-long clock mechanism was built in 1893 by Smith of Derby, incorporating a design of escapement by Edmund Denison Beckett similar to that used by Edward Dent on the Big Ben mechanism in 1895.
The north-west tower contains 13 bells, while the south-west contains 4, including a 16.5-tonne Great Paul, the largest bell in the British Isles, cast in 1881.