St Paul’s Cathedral, London, is an Anglican cathedral, the seat of the Bishop of London and the mother church of the Diocese of London.
It sits on Ludgate Hill at the highest point of the City of London.
A Roman temple to Diana may once have stood on the site, but the first Christian cathedral there was dedicated to St. Paul in 604 AD, during the rule of King Aethelberht I. That cathedral burned, and its replacement (built 675–685) was destroyed by Viking raiders in 962. In 1087 a third cathedral erected on the site also burned.
The present Cathedral, the masterpiece of Britain’s most famous architect Sir Christopher Wren. It was built between 1675 and 1710.
The cathedral is one of the most famous and most recognisable sights of London. Its dome, framed by the spires of Wren’s City churches, dominated the skyline for 300 years. It was the tallest building in London from 1710 to 1962.
The dome reaches a height of 111 meters (366 feet) and weighs about 66,000 tonnes (72,752 short tons). Eight arches support the dome. On top of the dome is a large lantern with a weight of 850 tonnes (936 short tons).
The impressive facade at the west side of the church consists of a large portico and pediment. A relief on the tympanum depicts the conversion of Paul and was created in 1706. The portico is flanked by two towers which weren’t part of the original plan. Wren added them at the last minute, in 1707.
The Baroque interior is just as imposing as the exterior of the church.
Like most Christian churches, St. Paul’s Cathedral is laid out in the shape of a cross.
At the “top” of the cross is the choir and the altar, where the sacrament of communion takes place.
The bishop’s throne (cathedra), from which a cathedral derives its name, is on the south side of the choir. The choir ceiling is covered with glittering mosaics created by William Richmond in the 1890s.
Originally, the cathedral had a simple table for an altar. Today’s very ornate high altar dates from 1958 and is made of marble and gilded oak. It replaces a large Victorian marble altar and screen, which were damaged by the bombing during World War II, and is based on a sketch by Christopher Wren.
The main internal space of the cathedral is that under the central dome which extends the full width of the nave and aisles. The dome is supported on pendentives rising between eight arches spanning the nave, choir, transepts, and aisles.
The inside of the dome is decorated with frescoes by Sir James Thornhill, the most important painter of Wren’s time.
The floor of the cathedral is tiled in a black and white checkerboard pattern. The narrower hallways between the pillars and the walls on either side of the nave are the north and south aisles of the sanctuary.
St Paul’s is home to a number of interesting chapels, most of them accessible from the Nave.
St Dunstan’s Chapel, consecrated in 1699, was the second part of Wren’s building to come into use, after the choir. In 1905, it was dedicated to St Dunstan, a Bishop of London who became of Archbishop of Canterbury in 959.
The All Souls’ Chapel in the north tower was dedicated in 1925 to the memory of Field Marshal Lord Kitchener. Among the chapel’s artefacts are sculptures of the military saints St Michael and St George, a beautiful pietá – a sculpture of the Virgin Mary holding the body of Christ – and an effigy of Lord Kitchener.
Entrances to the downstairs crypt are in both transepts, on either side of the dome. St. Paul’s substantial cathedral crypt contains over 200 memorials as well as another chapel and the treasury.The vast crypt contains the tombs of many notable figures, including the painters Constable, Turner and Reynolds. Under the south aisle lies the simple tombstone of Sir Christopher Wren, as well as the tombs of two of England’s greatest heroes, the Duke of Wellington and Lord Nelson.
Sir Christopher Wren, the architect of the cathedral, was fittingly the first person to be buried here, in 1723. The inscription on his burial slab states, “Reader, if you seek his memorial, look all around you.”
About 560 steps lead visitors along three galleries all the way to the top of the dome. The first gallery, the Whispering Gallery, just inside the dome, is renowned for its acoustics. The second gallery, the Stone Gallery, is situated at a height of 53 meters (174 feet) on the outside of the dome, right above the colonnade. On top of the dome, at a height of 85 meters (279 feet), is the narrow Golden Gallery, which encircles the lantern’s base. From here you have a magnificent view over the City.
The Cathedral Library houses St Paul’s superb collection of more than 21,000 books and manuscripts dating from 1690. As it’s name suggests, the Object Collection contains numerous artifacts associated with the history of St Paul’s and includes models, paintings and archaeological findings, while the Architectural Archive contains papers and drawings charting the building’s design and construction.
St Paul’s Cathedral has been depicted many times in paintings, prints and drawings. Among the well-known artists to have painted it are Canaletto, Turner, Daubigny, Pissarro, Signac, Derain, Lloyd Rees.
Films in which St Paul’s has appeared include: Lawrence of Arabia, Mary Poppins, The Madness of King George, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Sherlock Holmes (2009), Star Trek Into Darkness (2013).