The Great Fire of London in 1666 left the medieval cathedral of St. Paul’s in ruins. The architect Christopher Wren was commissioned to rebuilt it, but his design for a church on a Greek Cross plan (where all four arms are equal) met with considerable resistance. The authorities insisted on a conventional Latin cross, with a long nave and short transepts, to focus the congregation’s attention on the altar. Despite the compromises, Wren created a magnificent, world-renowned Baroque cathedral. Built between 1675 and 1710, it has been the setting for many state ceremonies.
St. Paul’s Cathedral is the final resting place of Sir Christopher Wren, whose tomb is marked by a slab. The inscription states, “Reader, if you seek a monument look around you.” Around 200 tombs of famous figures and popular heroes can be found in the crypt, such as Nelson, naval hero of the Battle of Trafalgar (1805), and the Duke of Wellington, hero of the Battle of Waterloo (1815). Other tombs and memorials include those of the composers Sir Arthur Sullivan, the sculptor Sir Henry Moore, and artists Sir John Everett Millais and Joshua Reynolds. Florence Nightingale, famous for her pioneering work in nursing standards and the first woman to receive the Order of Merit, is also buried here, as is Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicil.
The cathedral’s cool, beautifully ordered, ornate and spacious interior is instantly striking. The nave, transepts, and choir are arranged in the shape of a cross, as in a medieval cathedral, but Wren’s Classical vision shines through this conservative floor plan, forced on him by the Church authorities. The interior is dominated by the vast cupola (dome), which is decorated with monochrome frescoes by Sir James Thornhill. Master woodcarver Grinling Gibbons produced intricate carvings of cherubs, fruits, and garlands (choir stalls), while the French Huguenot wrought-ironwork genius Jean Tijou created the sanctuary gates.
Aided by some of the finest craftsmen of his day, Christopher Wren create an interior of grand majesty and Baroque splendor, a worthy setting for the many great ceremonial events that have taken place here. These include the funerals of Admiral Lord Nelson (1806), the Duke of Wellington (1852), and Sir Winston Churchill (1965). Celebrated royal occasions have included the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer (1981) and Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee (2002). The cathedral also provided the venue for a special service mark the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.
West Front and Towers
Added by Wren in 1707, the towers’ design was inspired by the Italian Baroque architect Boromini.
An imposing succession of massive arches and saucer domes open out into the vast space below the cathedral’s main dome.
Two stories of coupled Corinthian columns are topped by a pediment carved with reliefs showing the conversion of St. Paul.
This was added in 1718, against Wren’s wishes.
At 370 (113m), the elaborate dome is one of the highest in the world.
This weighs a massive 850 tons.
There are splendid views over London from here.
The cathedral floor can be seen through this opening.
The dome’s unusual acoustics mean that words whispered against the wall in this gallery can be heard clearly on the opposite side.
The 17th-century choir stalls and organ case were made by Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721), a woodcarver from Rotterdam. He and his team of craftsmen worked on these intricate carvings for two years.
Jean Tijou, a Huguenot refugee, created much of the fine wrought-ironwork here in Wren’s time, including the choir screens.
The present altar was made in 1958 and features a canopy based on Wren’s design.
This was inspired by the porch of Santa Maria della Pace in Rome. Wren absorbed the detail by studying a collection of architectural engravings.
Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) began his impressive architectural career at the age of 31. He became a leading figure in the reconstruction of London after the devastating Great Fire of 1666, building a total of 52 new churches. Although Wren never visited Italy, his work was influenced by Roman Renaissance and Baroque architecture.
1675-1710: Wren’s St. Paul’s Cathedral is built. It is the fourth church to occupy the site.
1723: Wren is the first person to be interred in the cathedral’s crypt.
1810: Many precious artifacts are lost in a major robbery.
1940: Slight bomb damage occurs during the London Blitz in World War II.