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St Paul's Cathedral
Ludgate Hill, London, UK
St Paul's Cathedral
associated engineer
Sir Christopher Wren
date  21st June 1675 - 1710
UK era  Stuart  |  category  Cathedral  |  reference  TQ319812
photo  Jane Joyce
The present St Paul's Cathedral, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, is the fourth cathedral on this site. The first two Anglo-Saxon buildings were timber, and the third a Medieval stone structure with a timber roof. All three were destroyed in turn by fire — the third one was destroyed in the Great Fire of London.
Sir Christopher Wren's (1632-1723) spectacular neo-classical St Paul's was the first English cathedral to be completed within its architect's lifetime. Wren made changes to the initial traditional design, constructing much of the building behind screens until its completion. The most obvious change was to omit a spire and enlarge the dome, which is the second largest in the world.
The foundation stone was laid on 21st June 1675. Most of the cathedral, apart from the dome, is constructed in Portland stone. Stones for the centre of the building were recycled from the rubble of Old St Paul's. The pediment of the south door is inscribed with a phoenix above the Latin word Resurgam (I shall rise again).
Skilled labour was scarce at the time — the country was recovering from the scourge of plague in 1665. However, in a bid to speed progress, in 1697 Parliament suspended half of Wren's salary until the completion of the cathedral (1710). He visited the site frequently to check progress, even being hauled up to the top of the dome in a basket.
The structure of the dome has three parts — an inner cupola of brick, an intermediate cone of brick and an outer casing of wood, which is covered in lead. All is topped by an ornate lantern crowned with a golden ball and cross. There are access stairs to the lantern between the brick cone and the outer casing. At the base of the dome, Wren set an endless iron chain into the stonework to contain the outward thrust forces. It was cast into place with molten lead.
Inside the cathedral, light descends from the crown of the inner dome, which has a circular opening painted to give the illusion of looking up into the lantern. Halfway up insde the cupola is a circular walkway known as the Whispering Gallery. The acoustics at this point make it possible to hear a whisper from the opposite side of the gallery, 34m away. Atop the huge dome is an observation platform — the Golden Gallery — 530 steps (85.3m) above the ground. The top of the cross is 111.3m above ground.
The cost of constructing 'new' St Paul's — £738,845 according to cathedral accounts — was met by taxes levied on coal arriving at the Port of London, which also paid for the rebuilding the City of London after the Great Fire of September 1666.
Other famous contributors to the neo-classical building include Grinling Gibbons (carved wooden choir stalls) and Jean Tijou (wrought iron sanctuary gates). The inside of the dome is decorated with Victorian mosaics, added to please Queen Victoria who remarked in 1872 that the interior of the cathedral was "most dreary, dingy and undevotional".
St Paul's is the cathedral for the Diocese of London. The first service was held in 1697, and people have had to pay to enter the cathedral since 1709. In 2010, St Paul's will celebrate the 300th anniversary of its consecration.
Wren’s tomb in the crypt bears the modest Latin inscription Lector, si monumentum requiris, circumspice (Reader, if you seek his memorial, look about you). Others buried here include J.M.W. Turner, the Duke of Wellington and Admiral Nelson and the ashes of Sir Alexander Fleming. The oldest memorial is to the poet John Donne, Dean of Old St Paul’s 1621-31, in the south aisle.
Architect: Sir Christopher Wren

St Paul's Cathedral