St. Paul's Cathedral. Church in London, England

St. Paul's Cathedral

Church in London, England

St. Paul's Cathedral Photo © arka 76

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St. Paul's Cathedral

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 - St. Paul's Cathedral
St. Paul's Cathedral. Photo by Nikopol
St. Paul’s Cathedral is a large church in the city of London, United Kingdom. With its iconic dome and ornate Baroque architecture, the cathedral holds a significant place in the country’s national identity. Situated at the highest point of the capital city, the site is thought to have been home to churches dedicated to St. Paul since the beginning of the 7th century AD.

The Anglo-Saxon Church

The first St. Paul’s Cathedral was founded during Anglo-Saxon rule. Although there is no hard evidence, it is widely assumed by historians that this building occupied the same position as later churches, at the top of London’s Ludgate Hill (Wikipedia
	Article). The first Bishop of London, Mellitus, was consecrated in 604 AD, but he was exiled a decade later when the East Saxons reverted to paganism, and the fate of the first St. Paul’s Cathedral is not documented.

When Christianity was restored in the late 7th century AD, the original church may have been restored, or a new one constructed. This building remained until 962 AD, when it was destroyed by fire. It was rebuilt the same year and survived until another fire broke out in 1087.

St Paul's Cathedral - St. Paul's
St Paul's Cathedral - St. Paul's Cathedral. Photo by Juan Salmoral

The Norman Church

The country was under Norman rule by this time, and the 1087 fire devastated much of the Norman developments, including the White Tower, also known as the Palatine Tower, which now forms part of the old keep at the Tower of London (Wikipedia
	Article). William the Conqueror had imported fine white stone from Normandy for the construction of his fortress, and when the original tower had to be demolished following the fire, the surviving stone was designated for use in the rebuilding of the cathedral.

The Norman church is known as Old St. Paul’s, however, construction was interrupted by yet another fire in 1136, and it took until 1240 to complete and consecrate the new cathedral. This building utilized Gothic architecture, and had a wooden ribbed vault, similar to that of York Minster.

Medieval Expansion

From 1256 until 1314 a series of ‘New Work’ was undertaken, making St. Paul’s Cathedral the second longest and third tallest church of its time. Its length was 178 meters and its spire reached 149 meters.

West Entrance,
	St Paul's Cathedral - St. Paul's Cathedral
West Entrance, St Paul's Cathedral - St. Paul's Cathedral. Photo by Steve Cadman

Sixteenth Century Destruction

As a result of legal acts that disbanded monasteries and allocated possession of religious property to the Crown, much of the inner ornamentation and many buildings of St. Paul’s Churchyard were seized and sold, predominantly to the Protestant group known as Puritans. The spire was destroyed in 1561 by a bolt of lightening, which was deemed by both Protestants and Roman Catholics to be a sign from God condemning the actions of the opposing sector.

Seventeenth Century St. Paul’s Cathedral

A west front was added to the cathedral during the 1630s, but the English Civil War (Wikipedia Article), between 1642 and 1651, saw much defacement and destruction to St. Paul’s Cathedral. Following the change to Republican rule in 1649, and in accordance with the earlier legal acts, materials from the remaining Churchyard buildings were seized and used for construction projects including the new royal residence, Somerset House.

The Great Fire of London in 1666 devastated the city, consuming the homes of 70,000 of the 80,000 residents, along with 87 churches and St. Paul’s Cathedral. Erupting at a bakery, the fire blazed for four days, engulfing St. Paul’s on the third.

The Great Fire

Thought of as a safe haven because of its stone walls and surrounding plaza, many goods including printing and bookmaking supplies were stored both in the main church and below it in the crypt. St. Paul’s Cathedral had been undergoing some renovations at the time, and this meant that it was covered in wooden scaffolding. After this caught alight, the beams of the wooden ribbed vault soon followed suit, causing the lead roof to melt. The molten lead created a stream-like lava that flowed down the neighboring streets. Before long, the papers and books stored in the crypt caught fire, providing such large amounts of fuel that the stones of St. Paul’s Cathedral were described as having been flung from the building, as if propelled by explosives.

Rebuilding the Cathedral

There was no saving the Old St. Paul’s Cathedral as it was completely gutted, so the decision was made to rebuild the cathedral in a modern style. Christopher Wren, who had been undertaking the cathedral’s restoration work at the time of the Great Fire, and who subsequently reconstructed more than 50 of the parish churches lost in the blaze, was commissioned to design the new structure in 1669.

The new building was finished in the 1720s, costing around £ £143 ($217) million in today’s money and funded by a tax on coal. Although there were still finishing touches to be undertaken, St. Paul’s Cathedral was declared officially complete on Christmas Day in 1711. This construction of St. Paul’s Cathedral that can be seen today, and it remains one of the largest churches in the United Kingdom, beaten only by Liverpool Cathedral, was completed many years later in 1978.

St Paul's Cathedral Choir view - St. Paul's Cathedral
St Paul's Cathedral Choir view - St. Paul's Cathedral. Photo by David Iliff

Visiting St. Paul’s Cathedral

St. Paul’s Cathedral is one of the most popular landmarks in London, attracting around 4,000 tourists a day during peak times. Its giant dome can be seen from across the city, but it is well worth viewing from closer up, and a sightseeing tour of the interior is highly recommended. Touch-screen multimedia guides were introduced in 2010 and are offered to all visitors. These provide an informative and captivating insight into the history, architecture and workings of the cathedral. The multimedia guides are available in 12 languages as well as British sign language, and there is also an English audio description version and a multimedia guide for children. Traditional guided tours are also readily available.

Visitors can explore areas including the crypt, where the tombs of Sir Christopher Wren (Wikipedia Article), Admiral Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington can be found. The crypt and the Nelson Chamber can also be hired for exquisite dinner parties.

The dome can be climbed, and the Whispering Gallery can be found approximately halfway up, with the Golden Gallery at the top. The Whispering Gallery is fascinating, particularly for younger visitors, as a whisper on one side becomes audible on the opposite side. The Golden Gallery is 85 meters above the cathedral floor and provides breathtaking panoramic views of London.

There is an admission charge for St. Paul’s Cathedral but this includes the use of a touch-screen multimedia guide. Adults can expect to pay £ £17 ($25), while students and senior citizens are charged a reduced rate of £ £15 ($22). Tickets for children between the ages of six and seventeen are £ £8 ($11) and children under the age of five can enter for free.

St. Paul's - St. Paul's Cathedral
St. Paul's - St. Paul's Cathedral. Photo by Jim Nix

How to Get There

St. Paul’s Cathedral is easily accessible by public transport. The nearest railway stations are London Blackfriars and the City Thameslink. From London Blackfriars, turn left onto Queen Victoria Street and then right onto New Bridge Street. The third turning on the right is Ludgate Hill, and this leads directly to St. Paul’s Churchyard and the cathedral itself. The City Thameslink station is situated on Ludgate Hill, so simply follow this to the right (east).

The nearest Tube station is St. Paul’s, and this is on the Central Line. From here, turn right onto Cheapside and St. Paul’s Churchyard will be on the right. Mansion House Underground station is also nearby, and this is served by the District and Circle Lines. From here, cross the Queen Victoria Street junction and head left along Cannon Street.

There are numerous bus routes that pass the cathedral, and the number 4 has several stops around the perimeter of St. Paul’s Churchyard. Other routes serving the cathedral are the 11, 15, 23, 25, 26, 100 and 242. Check the Transport for London website for further details.

Driving to St. Paul’s Cathedral is not advised, but if doing so, use the public car park on Queen Victoria Street as on-street parking is extremely limited.

Other Landmarks You Might Like

Other London attractions with architectural interest include Westminster Abbey and Tower Bridge. To get a feel for how Old St. Paul’s may have looked, visit York Minster, and to see the largest church in the United Kingdom, take in the impressive Liverpool Cathedral in the exciting city of Liverpool.

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Author: Ruth Hayward. Last updated: Jan 07, 2015

Pictures of St. Paul's Cathedral

St Paul's - St. Paul's Cathedral
St Paul's - St. Paul's Cathedral. Photo by Kieran Lynam


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