St. Paul’s Cathedral in London is the seat of the Bishop of London and a major London landmark. It is located on Ludgate Hill in the financial district known as the City of London. The present St. Paul’s Cathedral, which was built between 1675 and 1710, is the fourth cathedral to occupy the site, which was sacred even before Christianity arrived. The cathedral’s immediate predecessor was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. The cathedral enjoyed by visitors today was designed by court architect Sir Christopher Wren. Wren’s original, grander plan met with considerable resistance from the conservative Dean and Chapter.
The present building reflects a compromise, but still reflects the grandeur of Wren’s design. History The see of London dates from 604 AD, and its cathedral has always been situated on Ludgate Hill and dedicated to St Paul. Long before Christianity arrived in Britain, Ludgate Hill was already a sacred site. It is believed that it was originally the site of an ancient megalith and then later a temple dedicated to the goddess Diana, in alignment with the Apollo Temple which once stood at Westminster. The first cathedral was built by the Saxons in wood. It burned down in 675 and was rebuilt, again in wood, ten years later.
After this version was sacked by the Vikings in 962, the “second” St Paul’s built, this time mainly in stone. The third St Paul’s (known as Old St Paul’s), was begun by the Normans aftered the late Saxon cathedral suffered in a fire of 1087. Work took over two hundred years, and a great deal was lost in a fire in 1136. Nonetheless the roof was once more built of wood, which was ultimately to doom the building. The church was “completed” in 1240 but a change of heart soon led to the commencement of an enlargement programme, which was not completed until 1314.
It was the third longest church in Europe. By the 16th century the building was decaying. In 1549 radical preachers incited a mob to destroy many of the interior decorations. In 1561 the spire was destroyed by lightning and it was not replaced. England’s first classical architect Sir Inigo Jones. “Old St Paul’s” was ruined in the Great Fire of London of 1666. Work on the present cathedral commenced in 1675, and was completed on October 20, 1708, the 76th birthday of its architect, Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723). It is built of Portland stone in a late Renaissance to Baroque style.
The final design as built differs substantially from the official Warrant design.  Wren received permission from the king to make “ornamental changes” to the submitted design, and Wren took great advantage of this. Many of these changes were made over the course of the thirty years as the church was constructed, and the most significant was to the dome. St Paul’s Cathedral occupies a significant place in the national identity of the English population. It is the central subject of much promotional material, as well as postcard images of the dome standing tall, surrounded by the smoke and fire of the Blitz.
Important services held at St Paul’s include the funerals of Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington and Sir Winston Churchill; Jubilee celebrations for Queen Victoria; peace services marking the end of the First and Second World Wars; the marriage of Charles, Prince of Wales, and Lady Diana Spencer, the launch of the Festival of Britain and the thanksgiving services for both the Golden Jubilee and 80th Birthday of Queen Elizabeth II. St Paul’s Cathedral is a busy working church, with hourly prayer and daily services. What to See Like most Christian churches, St. Paul’s Cathedral is laid out in the shape f a cross. The longer end of the main arm of the cross is called the nave; the two ends of the shorter arm are called the transepts. At the “top” of the cross is the choir and the altar, where the sacrament of communion takes place. Where the cross’ two arms intersect is a great dome, marked by a great circle on the floor beneath it. The crypt is in a basement underneath the cathedral. West Front and Towers The West Porch, approached from Ludgate Hill, is the main entrance to St. Paul’s. This is where Prince Charles and Lady Diana emerged as husband and wife in 1981.
A large stairway leads up to six sets of double columns and the Great West Door. Nave As you enter the cathedral, you are in the nave – the main part of the cathedral that stretches out in front of you under the high, domed ceiling. The large, open space is intended to hold large congregations for services. The floor of the cathedral is tiled in a black and white checkerboard pattern. Monuments and Memorials Within the cathedral are plaques, carvings, monuments and statues dedicated to a wide range of people. The bulk are related to the British military with several lists of servicemen who died in action – the most recent being the Gulf War.
There are special monuments to Admiral Nelson and to the Duke of Wellington . Also remembered are poets, painters, clergy and residents of the local parish Chapels The nave has three small chapels in the two adjoining aisles. To the left (north aisle) is St. Dunstan’s Chapel, which was one of the earliest parts of the cathedral to come into use. It was originally known as the Morning Chapel, as it was designed to be the place where the clergy and a small congregation would say the morning office (set of prayers). In 1905 it was dedicated to St. Dunstan, who was Bishop of London.
All Souls Chapel is further down on the left side (north aisle) All Souls contains a beautiful pieta of Mary and Jesus and is dedicated primarily to soldiers of World War I. The Chapel of the Order of St. Michael and St. George is across from St. Dunstan’s on the right side (south aisle). This was originally the consistory court – the place where the bishop sat in judgment over the clergy, or priests. It was used as a studio for the construction of Wellington’s monument between 1858 and 1878. Crypt St. Paul’s substantial cathedral crypt contains over 200 memorials as well as another chapel and the treasury.
Members of the royal family are buried in Westminster Abbey, but many other notable figures are buried in St. Paul’s Cathedral crypt, such as Florence Nightengale 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. ” Look for Wren’s tomb all the way to the east end of the crypt, under the altar. Dome and Galleries The inside of the dome is decorated with frescos by Sir James Thornhill, the most important painter of Wren’s time.
The dome contains three circular galleries – the internal Whispering Gallery, the external Stone Gallery and the external Golden Gallery. The Whispering Gallery derives its name from its unusual acoustics, which cause whispers to echo around the dome. Choir The choir extends to the east end of the dome. It is home to the cathedral’s great organ, which was ommissioned in 1694. The current instrument is the third biggest in Britain. High Altar 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.