If you wish to see iconic London; a visit to St Paul’s Cathedral is a must!!
Probably one of the most recognisable and definitely one of the most famous of London’s landmarks is St Paul’s Cathedral. Iconic London; a visit to St Pauls’ Cathedral.
Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece of Rennaissance and English Baroque architecture, the cathedral sits at the top of Ludgate Hill, the highest point in the City of London. At 111.3 meters itself, the cathedral commands your attention by day, looking ethereal and other-worldly at night.
For more than 1,400 years a church has stood on this site; founded in AD604, the first church on this site was dedicated to Paul the Apostle. You can see a gilded statue of St Paul on a column of stone in the churchyard on the west side of the cathedral.
Built between 1675 and 1710, construction of the cathedral we see today, started in 1675 and took 32 years and 3 months to build after the previous church was gutted during the 1666 Great Fire of London; services began in 1697. The cathedral is a Church of England cathedral and the seat of the Bishop of London, the mother church of the Diocese of London.
The cathedral’s construction, part of a major rebuilding programme after the 1666 Great Fire of London, was completed in Sir Christopher Wren’s lifetime, with the ‘topping out’ of the cathedral taking place on October 26th 1708, performed by Wren’s son Christopher Jr and the son of one of the masons and declared officially complete by Parliament on December 25th, 1711.
The dome of St Paul’s, one of the largest cathedral domes in the world, weighs approx 65,000 tons and has dominated the city for over 300 years and between 1710 to 1962 it was, at 365′ high, the tallest building in London, now of course we have dozens of ‘skyscrapers’ that both enchant and annoy and have changed the London skyline forever. One of the most iconic images of St Paul’s is from during the 2nd WW when it was photographed on December 29th 1940 by photographer Herbert Mason from the roof of the Daily Mail, shrouded by the smoke from the fires of the Blitz… it stands like a phoenix rising from the ashes; tall and aloof.
St Paul’s Cathedral has been witness to many important events in the life of London and the United Kingdom; services have included:
Jubilee Celebrations for Queen Victoria (there is a plaque at the base of the steps that commemorate the spot where her carriage stood during the service)
Peace services at the end of both world wars.
Thanksgiving service for the 2002 Golden Jubilee, 80th birthday and 2012 Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.
Royal Wedding; Charles, Prince of Wales to Lady Diana Spencer in 1981.
Famous funerals: the Duke of Wellington; Horatio, Lord Nelson; Sir Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher in 2013.
The history of the site on which the current cathedral stands has been turbulent in the extreme, previous buildings having been destroyed by fire, the 4th building referred to as Old St Paul’s begun by the Normans after the 1087 fire, work disrupted by a further fire in 1136, finally consecrated in 1240. The Dissolution of the Monasteries in the reign of Henry VIII led to the destruction of interior ornamentation as well as the chapels, cloisters, charnels, shrines and crypts, and other buildings in the churchyard of St Paul’s. The spire was destroyed by lightning in 1561; an event taken by Protestants and Roman Catholics alike as a sign of God’s displeasure.
A west front was added to the building in 1630 by Inigo Jones, England’s first classical architect.
During the Civil War documents and charters were destroyed and the building defaced by Parliamentarian forces.
Old St Paul’s was gutted during the 1666 Great Fire of London to an extent that it was decided to build a new cathedral rather than reconstruct it. This task was officially assigned to Sir Christopher Wren on July 30th 1669, who had also been tasked with rebuilding many of the City’s churches also destroyed during the fire. Wren had begun advising on the repair of the Old St Pauls in 1661, 5 years before the Great Fire of 1666 and his proposed work then had included renovations to the interior and exterior. The entire structure was demolished in the early 1670s. The design process took several years and a design was finally settled and attached to a royal warrantwith the proviso that Wren was ‘permitted to make any further changes that he deemed necessary’. The result is the cathedral we see today; with a dome proclaimed to be the finest in the world and the 2nd largest church in Britain. By 1716 costs had totalled £1,095,556 (financed by tax on coal). The statues on the roof were added in the 1720s. Not everyone loved it!!
Despite being targeted during the Blitz, the “Second Great Fire of London”, the cathedral was struck by bombs on October 10th 1940 and April 17th, 1941. Thanks to the actions of a bomb disposal unit under the command of Temporary Lieutenant Robert Davis, a time-delayed bomb that had struck the cathedral on September 12th, 1940 was successfully defused and removed. If the bomb had detonated, it would have completely destroyed the cathedral as it left a 100′ crate when later detonated at a secure location. Lieutenant Davis and Sapper George Cameron Wylie were awarded the George Cross for their actions. Lisa Jardine of Queen Mary, University of London wrote: “Wreathed in billowing smoke, amidst the chaos and desruction of war, the pale dome stands proud and glorious – indomitable. At the height of that air-raid, Sir Winston Churchill telephoned the Guildhall to insist that all fire-fighting resources be directed at St Paul’s. The cathedral must be saved, he said, damage to the fabric would sap the morale of the country”.
One of the largest restoration projects undertaken in the UK was started in 1996; a 15-year renovation project by John B Chambers and completed on June 15th, 2011.
Further drama was added to the history of the cathedral in October 2011 when the anti-capitalism ‘Occupy London’ encampment was established in front of St Paul’s. After legal action by the City Corporation the encampment was evicted at the end of February 2012.
Although St Paul’s Cathedral is generally open to tourists (for a fee), it is still a busy, working church with hourly prayer and 3 or 4 services daily, including Matins, Eucharist and Evensong (evening prayer). The cathedral also has a number of special services associated with the City of London, its guilds and institutions – the most famous of which is the Lord Mayor’s Show in November each year. The cathedral is also host to a regular programme of organ recitals and performances, has a role in many state functions and exhibitions, one of the most recent of which was ‘Caravan’ – From Cairo to London: 25 life-size painted donkeys arrived at St Paul’s from Egypt. The cathedral is closed to tourists for special events and services.
The Bishop of London is The Right Reverend Richard Chartres who was installed in January 1996.
What you can see inside St Paul’s Cathedral:
The Quire – the first part of the cathedral to be built and consecrated.
The North Aisle – the wrought-iron gates were designed by the French master metalworker Jean Tijou.
The sculpture; Mother and Child, by Henry Moore who is commemorated in the crypt.
At the east end of the cathedral, behind the High Altar, is the Jesus Chapel; also known as the American Memorial Chapel, dedicated in 1958 to honour American servicemen and women who died in World War II.
The interior of the dome – in 1708 cathedral commissioners appointed James Thornhill to paint the dome in monochrome; the murals based on the life of St Paul’s took four years to complete. These eventually deteriorated due to London smog and the British climate, and were repainted in 1853.
The organ; commissioned from Bernard Smith in 1694, the 3rd largest in Britain in terms of pipes; numbering 7,189 with 5 keyboardss, 189 ranks of pipes and 138 organ stops, enclosed in a case decorated by Grinling Gibbons.
The choir; if you are lucky, your visit may co-incide with the choir’s practise and if you are on the Whispering Gallery the sound is spine-tingling. The earliest records of the choir date from 1127 with the present choir consisting of 30 boys and 8 probationers and the Vicars Choral of 12 men who are professional singers.
Wellington’s Monument: a quite extraordinary monument to one of Britain’s greatest soldiers and statesmen. The monument features a figure on horseback. Wellington died in 1852 and his monument was completed in 1912.
Some of the most intricate, beautifully carved and decorated memorials you could imagine. And lets not forget the mosaics!!! Not as extravagant as St Mark’s in Venice and since I haven’t been to Rome I can’t comment on those, but in my opinion the mosaics in St Paul’s Cathedral are exceptionally beautiful and worth a visit on their own.
The Whispering Gallery; a climb of 259 steps up the dome will bring you to this extraordinary gallery which runs around the interior of the Dome.
In the Crypt:
The Chapel of St Faith: Chapel of the Order of the British Empire. The original St Faith’s, a parish church attached to the old cathedral was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666.
There are a great number of wonderful memorials in the crypt and I would seriously recommend you include some time to look around:
The architect of St Paul’s, Sir Christopher Wren is buried in the south aisle at the east end of the crypt, the tomb marked by a simple stone. Memorials to his family and Robert Hooke; Wren’s associate & intellectual equal, as well as to the masons and other colleagues who worked with Wren on the building of St Paul’s. A simple epitaph in Latin, written by his son, says: ‘Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you’.
The tomb of Horatio Nelson: Lord Nelson was killed at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Buried in St Paul’s after a state funeral, he was laid in a coffin made from the timber of a French ship he defeated in battle.
The first of two galleries above the Whispering Gallery, the Stone Gallery encircles the outside of the dome, is reached by 378 steps and stands at 173 ft (53.4 metres) from ground-level offering fabulous views of the City of London, the River Thames and as far as Westminster.
The Golden Gallery, the smallest of the galleries runs around the highest point of the outer dome, 280ft (85.4 metres) Visitors who climb the 528 steps to this gallery will be treated to panoramic views of London; taking in the River Thames, Tate Modern, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, The Shard and views as far away as Canary Wharf.
Address: St. Paul’s Churchyard, London EC4M 8AD
Nearest tube stations: St Pauls, Blackfriars, Mansion House and a bit farther afield is Bank.
Plan your journey: http://www.tfl.gov.uk
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What you can see in the area:
One New Change
The Fireman’s Memorial
The Centre Page Pub – mentioned in his book: The Pickwick Papers, there is a Dickens Room downstairs where you can enjoy a typical British meal.
The Cutler’s Hall
The Stationer’s Hall