St. Paul’s Cathedral, London is the mother church of the entire Diocese of London. It is an Anglican church that is headed by the Bishop of London.
St. Paul’s Cathedral is located on the Ludgate Hill, which is the most elevated point in the whole City of London and is one of the Grade I listed buildings, which means it has maximum priority when it comes to the protection of Heritage properties and is of immense interest.
The St. Paul’s Cathedral is dedicated to Paul, the Apostle. It was built in the Old St. Paul’s Cathedral after it’s destruction in a deadly fire.
The History of St. Paul’s Cathedral
According to Bede, Augustine of Canterbury declared Mellitus as the Bishop of the Anglo Saxon Kingdom under King Sæberht in 604 AD. For the new bishop, Æthelberht, the King of Kent, built a new church devoted to St. Paul in London. The original Anglo Saxon Kingdom church was previously located in the same place as the later ones, according to popular belief.
After the death of Sæberht around the year of 616 AD, his sons, who followed paganism, drove away Mellitus and converted the kingdom to mostly paganism.
The remains and details of the first church ever are unknown. William Camden, an Elizabethan antiquarian, argued the existence of the first cathedral and believed, according to his research, that instead of a church, a temple dedicated to Goddess Diana was located there. Still, present-day archaeologists do not believe in this hypothesis.
But as far as it is recorded, the East Saxons restored the old church or maybe built a new church on the old one back in the 7th century. A deadly fire destroyed this building in 962 AD, but it was built again in the same year. According to the Anglo Saxon Chronicles, King Æthelred the Unready was buried inside St. Paul’s cathedral, but the cathedral was burned again in 1087 AD.
Technically what was the fourth St. Paul’s Cathedral was started to be constructed by the Normans, but the fire in the year of 1135 AD stopped it again, and the cathedral was not entirely built by 1240 AD. In 1256 AD, St. Paul’s cathedral was decided to be increased in the area. By 1314 AD, the cathedral was more majestic as it was increased in length by the construction of the Abbey Church of Cluny and in height by Lincoln Cathedral and the St. Mary’s Church, Stralsund.
By the records and studies of Francis Penrose of the enlarged cathedral, in 1878, it was discovered that St. Paul’s Cathedral was 178 meters long, 30 meters wide, and the spire of the cathedral was about 149 meters tall.
During the English Reformation under the kings, Henry VIII and Edward VI and the acts of cantries led to the decay and demolition of the St. Paul’s Cathedral. Interior designs of the church, shrines, and chantries were destroyed. The image of St. Erkenwald was taken from the church by the king’s men, the rood and many paintings were destroyed in 1547 AD. The Alle the alteres and chappelles in alle Powlles church was removed from the St. Paul’s cathedral in 1552 AD.
Building belonging to the church was either given away or sold to business people, and booksellers, printers, and rented properties that emerged in those places. In 1561 a natural disaster took place, and the spire of St. Paul’s cathedral was destroyed by a strike of lightning. The Roman Catholics believed it to be God’s divine judgment against the sudden rise of protestants and the unruly use of the Cathedral building.
The destruction of St. Paul’s cathedral once again was a massive blow to the country’s economic status, and the citizens went through an immense trade depression to pay for the repair of the cathedral. Inigo Jones, a classical architect, added a western front to the cathedral building.
During the civil war in England, the St. Paul’s cathedral went through many ruins by the forces of the Parliament, and many vital drawings and documents inside the church were destroyed. In the Commonwealth, the St. Paul’s Cathedral was used as a preaching ground.
In 1666 AD, the Great Fire of London emerged, and the majestic St. Paul’s cathedral was almost destroyed. It was impossible to build it in a similar style as most of the initial plans were destroyed. So, a decision to built a modern style St. Pauls’s cathedral at the same spot was taken.
Sir Christopher Wren, in 1669 AD, was officially made the principal designer of the new building of the cathedral that was to be built. He had a record of reestablishing almost about 50 churches that were previously lost in the fire, and he did those with great prowess, and his architectural brilliance was well known to all.
Wren had originally decided to start from the remains of the old building but ultimately tore down the entire building in 1670 AD. He had already planned renovations of the damaged parts of the St. Paul’s cathedral building before it was destroyed in the fire.
The final design took a couple of years to be finalized as the authorities wanted something incredibly unique, majestic, and beautiful. Henceforth, the exquisite present-day St. Paul’s cathedral was created and was financed by a tax on the coal in the country. It was hopefully completed by Wren’s supervision and is deemed to have the finest dome in the world.
The last piece of stone, which was placed on the cathedral building, known as topping out, was done on 26 October 1708 AD. This was done by Christopher Wren’s son Christopher Jr. and one of the sons of the masons. On Christmas Day in the year 1711 AD, the St. Paul’s cathedral was officially announced to be completed, but till the 1720s, several statues were added to the cathedral.
The entire amount spent on the building of the St. Paul’s cathedral was about £1,095,556.
In the early 1940s, the Blitz happened, but St. Paul’s cathedral was able to withstand it more or less. The high altar and some other portions of the cathedral were demolished in these bombings. The entire dome was shifted laterally by the extreme force of the deadly bombs. Luckily, the bomb that was meant to strike the St. Paul’s cathedral was defused. Otherwise, it is believed that the cathedral would have suffered irreparable damage.
The people responsible for saving this historical heritage building were awarded the George Cross.
After all these wars and the years of brutality, on 29 July 1981, the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana has held in St. Paul’s cathedral. Under John B. Chambers, a 15-year renovation project of the cathedral was started, and it was completed by 2011.
On 10 October 2019, a person named Safiyya Shaikh was arrested as she had taken pictures of the interiors of the St. Paul’s cathedral and was involved in a terrorist attack plan of destroying the church. She pleaded guilty and has been sentenced to prison for 14 years.
The Architecture of St. Paul’s Cathedral
St. Paul’s Cathedral, built by Christopher Wren, was inspired in a classic Baroque style that brings before us the old traditions, some ideas by Inigo Jones and Andrea Palladio, and some other styles that he had seen in his lifetime. The cathedral was built in such a way so that its main attraction was the facade.
The dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral is an exquisite piece of art, which is about 111 meters, and the entire city can be viewed from it’s highest point. For a very long period until the 20th century, it was the tallest building in London. Michelangelo’s St. Peter Basilica, Mansart’s Val-de-Grâce, were some of the historical pieces from which it was inspired.
The facade of the St. Paul’s cathedral consisted of a Classical Portico that rose as tall as about two storeys and was supported by a series of paired columns. The space that was between the upper storey of the Portico and the towers on the two sides were joined by a wall that comprised of an arch-topped window.
There are two chapels located behind the towers. The windows that are placed lower are comparatively smaller than the highly placed windows. The written details on top of the prominent cornice are evident so that it can be visible from far away.
The cathedral building is two storeys high and consists of masonry, a basement, and surrounded all over by a balustrade. The walls of St. Paul’s cathedral appear strong and firm even from a distance. The parapet is about 110 feet tall from the ground.
The original fencing of the cathedral was destroyed and is at present in High Park, Toronto.
The entrance of the St. Paul’s cathedral is a square dome-shaped narthex and is surrounded by chapels. The Chapel of St. Dunstan is in the north, whereas the Chapel of St. Michael and St. George is south of the cathedral.
The vaults that are located inside the cathedral are rectangular-shaped and has a beautiful mosaic on them. The windows have lunettes on them, and the choir of the church has stalls reserved for the clergy, the church choir the cathedral officers, and the organ. The interior of the St. Paul’s cathedral is adorned with paintings, carvings, and exquisite pieces of art from famous artists.
The current or the new St. Paul’s cathedral is not as tall as the old St. Paul’s cathedral, but it is broader than that. The measurements of the new one are about 574 feet tall, the width is 121 feet, and the distance between the transepts is 246 feet.
There is a Whispering Gallery, which is so-called because even a low voice can be heard from the other side of the gallery and is located above 259 steps from the ground.
The dome is decorated with paintings of eight scenarios in the life of St. Paul, and the apex of the dome has an oculus that was made after the Pantheon in Rome. The apse extends through the choir and nave and is decorated with a beautiful mosaic. In 1958 it was dedicated as the American Memorial Chapel and consisted of the names of the 28000 American soldiers who were stationed in the United Kingdom during the second world war.
The tombs of many famous people are located in the church, including Lord Nelson, Horatio, Florence Nightingale, Arthur Sullivan, Lawrence of Arabia, William Blake, John Donne, and many more. Funerals of Winston Churchill, George Mallory, Margaret Thatcher, and other prominent people were held inside the St. Paul’s cathedral.
The clock on the southwest tower was designed by Smith of Derby in 1893. There are four bells there, too, of which Great Paul made in 1881. Taylor’s bell foundry of Loughborough, which weighed 16800 kg was the largest bell till the casting bell of the 2012 Olympics was made. The bell Great Tom is only rung when a member of the royal family passes away, but an exception was made on the death of US president, James Garfield. There are 12 bells on the northwest tower.
Tourism and St. Paul’s Cathedral
In the year 2010, St. Paul’s Oculus, a film that portrays the 1400 years of history of the church, was released. It brings before us the rich history and the activities that go on inside the church every day. Multimedia guides that focus on the interiors of the St. Paul’s cathedral are available in twelve different languages.
People who want to worship can go inside free of charge, but sightseers have to pay an entry fee. It’s a delight to visit this piece of history in person, and every year a considerable number of tourists visit the cathedral.
St. Paul’s Cathedral in Aspects of Art
Throughout history, many great artists have depicted the cathedral in their works. Canaletto, Pissarro, Derain, Signac are just a few of the many.
Various parts of the St. Paul’s Cathedral has been shown in movies and shows like Lawrence of Arabia, Mary Poppins, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Doctor Who, The Madness of King George, Sherlock Holmes, Paddington 2, and many many more.