St Paul's Cathedral

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St Paul's

Cathedral Church of St Paul the Apostle

London, Middlesex

Status: cathedral
St Pauls aerial (cropped).jpg
St Paul's Cathedral, London
Church of England
Diocese of London
Grid reference: TQ320811
Location: 51°30’50"N, 0°5’55"W
Built 1675–1710

St Paul's Cathedral stands in the heart of the City of London in Middlesex and is perhaps the most celebrated building in the remarkable square-mile city. St Paul's is the cathedral church of the Diocese of London and so the seat of the Bishop of London.

The cathedral stands on Ludgate Hill, at the highest point of the City of London. Its dedication to St Paul the Apostle dates back to the original church on this site, founded in AD 604.[1] The present church though was built in the late 17th century, designed in the Baroque style by Sir Christopher Wren. Its construction, completed in Wren's lifetime, was part of a major rebuilding programme in the City after the Great Fire of London.[2]

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.[3] At 365 feet high, it was the tallest building in London from 1710 to 1967. The dome is among the highest in the world. St Paul's is the second largest church building by area in the United Kingdom, exceeded only by Liverpool Cathedral.

St Paul's Cathedral occupies a significant place in the national identity.[4] It is the central subject of much promotional material, as well as of images of the dome surrounded by the smoke and fire of the Blitz.[4] Services held at St Paul's have included 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 wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer, the launch of the Festival of Britain and the thanksgiving services for the Golden Jubilee, the 80th Birthday and the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.

St Paul's Cathedral is a working church with hourly prayer and daily services.


Pre-Norman cathedrals

A list of the 16 alleged archbishops of London was recorded by Jocelyne of Furness in the 12th century, claiming that London's Christian community was founded in the 2nd century under the legendary King Lucius of Britain and his missionary saints Fagan, Deruvian, Elvanus, and Medwin. None of that is considered credible by modern historians but, although the surviving text is problematic, either Bishop Restitutus or Adelphius at the 314 Council of Arles seems to have come from Londinium.

The location of Londinium's original cathedral is unknown. The present structure of St Peter upon Cornhill was designed by Christopher Wren following the Great Fire in 1666 but it stands upon the highest point in the area of old Londinium and mediæval legends tie it to the city's earliest Christian community. In 1995, however, a large and ornate 5th-century building on Tower Hill was excavated, which might have been the city's cathedral.[5][6]

The Elizabethan antiquarian William Camden argued that a temple to the goddess Diana had stood during Roman times on the site occupied by the mediæval St Paul's cathedral.[7] Wren reported that he had found no trace of any such temple during the works to build the new cathedral after the Great Fire, and Camden's hypothesis is no longer accepted by modern archaeologists.[8]

Bede]] records that in AD 604, St Augustine consecrated Mellitus as the first bishop to the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of the East Saxons and their king, Sæberht. Sæberht's uncle and overlord, King Æthelberht of Kent, built a church dedicated to St Paul in London, as the seat of the new bishop.[9] It is assumed, although unproven, that this first Anglo-Saxon cathedral stood on the same site as the later mediæval and the present cathedrals.

On the death of Sæberht in about 616, his pagan sons expelled Mellitus from London, and the East Saxons reverted to paganism. The fate of the first cathedral building is unknown. Christianity was restored among the East Saxons in the late 7th-century and it is presumed that either the Anglo-Saxon cathedral was restored or a new building erected as the seat of bishops such as Cedd, Wine and Earconwald, the last of whom was buried in the cathedral in 693. This building, or a successor, was destroyed by fire in 962, but rebuilt in the same year.[10] }}

King Æthelred the Unready was buried in the cathedral on his death in 1016. The cathedral was burnt, with much of the city, in a fire in 1087, as recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

Old St Paul's

The fourth St Paul's, generally referred to as Old St Paul's, was begun by the Normans after the 1087 fire. A further fire in 1136 disrupted the work, and the new cathedral was not consecrated until 1240. During the period of construction, the style of architecture had changed from Romanesque to Gothic and this was reflected in the pointed arches and larger windows of the upper parts and East End of the building. The Gothic ribbed vault was constructed, like that of York Minster, of wood rather than stone, which affected the ultimate fate of the building.

Reconstructed image of Old St Paul's before 1561

An enlargement programme began in 1256. This 'New Work' was consecrated in 1300 but not complete until 1314. During the later Mediæval period St Paul's was exceeded in length only by the Abbey Church of Cluny and in the height of its spire only by Lincoln Cathedral and St. Mary's Church, Stralsund. Excavations by Francis Penrose in 1878 showed that it was 585 feet long and 100 feet wide, and 290 feet across the transepts and crossing. The spire was about 489 feet.

By the 16th century the building was starting to decay. After the Reformation under Henry VIII and Edward VI, the Dissolution of the Monasteries and Chantries Acts led to the destruction of interior ornamentation and the cloisters, charnels, crypts, chapels, shrines, chantries and other buildings in St Paul's Churchyard. Many of these closd sites in the churchyard, having been seized by the Crown, were sold as shops and rental properties, especially to printers and booksellers, who were often Puritans. In 1561 the spire was destroyed by lightning, an event that was taken by both Protestants and Romanists as a sign of God's displeasure at each other.

In the 1630s a west front was added to the building by Britain's first classical architect, Inigo Jones.

There was much defacing and mistreatment of the building by Parliamentarian forces during the Civil War, and the old documents and charters were dispersed and destroyed.[11] }} During the Commonwealth, those churchyard buildings that were razed supplied ready-dressed building material for construction projects, such as the Lord Protector's city palace, Somerset House. Crowds were drawn to the north-east corner of the churchyard, St Paul's Cross, where open-air preaching took place.

In the Great Fire of London of 1666, Old St Paul's was gutted. While it might have been possible to reconstruct it, a decision was taken to build a new cathedral in a modern style. This course of action had been proposed even before the fire.

Present St Paul's

St Paul's Cathedral in 1896

The task of designing a replacement structure was officially assigned to Sir Christopher Wren on 30 July 1669.[12] He had previously been put in charge of the rebuilding of churches to replace those lost in the Great Fire. More than fifty City churches are attributable to Wren. Concurrent with designing St Paul's, Wren was engaged in the production of his five Tracts on Architecture.

Wren had begun advising on the repair of the Old St Paul's in 1661, five years before the Fire in 1666.[13] The proposed work included renovations to interior and exterior to complement the Classical facade designed by Inigo Jones in 1630.[14] Wren planned to replace the dilapidated tower with a dome, using the existing structure as a scaffold. He produced a drawing of the proposed dome which shows his idea that it should span nave and aisles at the crossing.[15] After the Fire, it was at first thought possible to retain a substantial part of the old cathedral, but ultimately the entire structure was demolished in the early 1670s.

In July 1668 Dean William Sancroft wrote to Wren that he was charged by the Archbishop of Canterbury, in agreement with the Bishops of London and Oxford, to design a new cathedral that was "handsome and noble to all the ends of it and to the reputation of the City and the nation".[16] The design process took several years, but a design was finally settled and attached to a royal warrant, with the proviso that Wren was permitted to make any further changes that he deemed necessary. The result was the present St Paul's Cathedral, still the second largest church in Britain, with a dome proclaimed as the finest in the world.[17] A tax on coal entering the city raised a fund for the reconstruction of London, and the new cathedral was financed from this fund. It was completed within its architect's lifetime with many of the major contractors engaged for the duration.

The "topping out" of the cathedral (when the final stone was placed on the lantern) took place on 26 October 1708, performed by Wren's son Christopher Jr and the son of one of the masons.[18] The cathedral was declared officially complete by Parliament on 25 December 1711 (Christmas Day).[19] In fact, construction continued for several years after that, with the statues on the roof added in the 1720s. In 1716 the total costs amounted to the collosal sum of £1,095,556.

On 2 December 1697, only 32 years and 3 months after the Great Fire destroyed Old St Paul's, the new cathedral was consecrated for use. The Right Reverend Henry Compton, Bishop of London, preached the sermon. It was based on the text of Psalm 122, "I was glad when they said unto me: Let us go into the house of the Lord." The first regular service was held on the following Sunday.

Opinions of Wren's cathedral differed, with some loving it: "Without, within, below, above, the eye / Is filled with unrestrained delight",[20] }} while others hated it: "...There was an air of Popery about the gilded capitals, the heavy arches...They were unfamiliar, un-English...".[21]

St Paul's, seen across the River Thames, 1850

War damage

The cathedral survived the Blitz although struck by bombs on 10 October 1940 and 17 April 1941. The first strike destroyed the high altar, while the second strike on the north transept left a hole in the floor above the crypt.[22] The latter bomb is believed to have detonated in the upper interior above the north transept and the force was sufficient to shift the entire dome laterally by a small amount.[23][24]

On 12 September 1940 a time-delayed bomb that had struck the cathedral was successfully defused and removed by a bomb disposal detachment of Royal Engineers under the command of Temporary Lieutenant Robert Davies. Had this bomb detonated, it would have totally destroyed the cathedral; it left a hundred-foot crater when later remotely detonated in a secure location.[25] As a result of this action, Davies and Sapper George Cameron Wylie were each awarded the George Cross.[26] Davies' George Cross and other medals are on display at the Imperial War Museum.

One of the best known images of London during the war was a photograph of St Paul's taken on 29 December 1940 during the "Second Great Fire of London" by photographer Herbert Mason, from the roof of the Daily Mail in Tudor Street showing the cathedral shrouded in smoke. Lisa Jardine of Queen Mary, University of London, has written:[22]

Wreathed in billowing smoke, amidst the chaos and destruction of war, the pale dome stands proud and glorious—indomitable. At the height of that air-raid, Sir Winston Churchill telephoned the Guildhall to insist that all fire-fighting resources be directed at St Paul's. The cathedral must be saved, he said, damage to the fabric would sap the morale of the country.


Extensive copper, lead and slate renovation work was carried out on the Dome in 1996 by John B. Chambers. A 15-year restoration project—one of the largest ever undertaken in the UK—was completed on 15 June 2011.[27]


St Paul's Cathedral is a busy church with four or five services every day, including Matins, Eucharist and Evening Prayer or Evensong. In addition, the cathedral has many special services associated with the City of London, its corporation, guilds and institutions. The cathedral, as the largest church in London, also has a role in many state functions such as the service celebrating the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.

The cathedral is generally open daily to tourists and has a regular program of organ recitals and other performances.[28]

St Paul's during a special service in 2008


The cathedral chapter is composed of the dean, four residentiary canons and (currently) two lay canons, each with a different responsibility in the running of the cathedral.

These include: the Dean of St Paul's, the Chancellor, the Precentor, the Treasurer, the Canon Pastor, the Lay Canon (Finance), the Lay Canon.

College of Minor Canons

The Minor Canons co-ordinate many aspects of the daily running of the cathedral; conducting services and arranging liturgy and music. These are the Succentor and the Sacrist. The role of Chaplain is no longer that of a Minor Canon but rests in the newly established category of Priest Vicar.



The organ was commissioned from Bernard Smith in 1694. Lang 1956, p. 171 The current instrument is the fourth-largest in Great Britain in terms of number of pipes (7,266), with 5 manuals, 189 ranks of pipes and 108 stops, enclosed in an impressive case designed in Wren's workshop and decorated by Grinling Gibbons.[29]

Details of the organ from the National Pipe Organ Register


St Paul's Cathedral has a choir, largely of men and boys, which sings regularly at services. The earliest records of the choir date from 1127. The present choir consist of up to 30 boy choristers, eight probationers, and the Vicars Choral, 12 men who are professional singers. During school terms the choir sings at Evensong five times per week, the service on Mondays being sung by a visiting choir (or occasionally said) and that on Thursdays being sung by the Vicars Choral without the boys. On Sundays the choir also sings at Matins and Eucharist.[30]

Many distinguished musicians have been organists, choir masters and choristers at St Paul's Cathedral, including the composers John Redford, Thomas Morley, John Blow, Jeremiah Clarke and John Stainer, while well known performers have included Alfred Deller, John Shirley-Quirk and Anthony Way as well as the conductors Charles Groves and Paul Hillier and the poet Walter de la Mare.

Wren's design

Development of the design

"Sir Christopher Wren
Said, "I am going to dine with some men.
If anyone calls,
Say I'm designing Saint Paul's."

A clerihew by Edmund Clerihew Bentley

In designing St Paul's, Christopher Wren had to meet many challenges. He had to create a fitting cathedral to replace Old St Paul's, as a place of worship and as a landmark within the City of London. He had to satisfy the requirements of the church and the tastes of a royal patron, as well as respecting the essentially mediæval tradition of English church building which developed to accommodate the liturgy. Wren was familiar with contemporary Renaissance and Baroque trends in Italian architecture, and had visited France, where he studied the work of François Mansart.

Wren's design developed through five general stages. The first survives only as a single drawing and part of a model. The scheme (usually called the First Model Design) appears to have consisted of a circular domed vestibule (possibly based on the Pantheon in Rome) and a rectangular church of basilica form. The plan may have been influenced by the Temple Church. It was rejected because it was not thought "stately enough"[31] Wren's second design was a Greek cross, which was thought by the clerics not to fulfil the requirements of Anglican liturgy.[32]

Wren's third design is embodied in the "Great Model" of 1673. The model, made of oak and plaster, cost over £500 and is over 13 feet tall and 21 feet long.[33] This design retained the form of the Greek Cross design but extended it with a nave. His critics, members of a committee commissioned to rebuild the church, and clergy, decried the design as too dissimilar to other English churches to suggest any continuity within the Church of England. Another problem was that the entire design would have to be completed all at once because of the eight central piers that supported the dome, instead of being completed in stages and opened for use before construction finished, as was customary. The Great Model was Wren's favourite design; he thought it a reflection of Renaissance beauty.[34] After the Great Model, Wren resolved not to make further models and not publicly to expose his drawings, which he found to do nothing but "lose time, and subject [his] business many times, to incompetent judges".[32] The Great Model survives and is housed within the Cathedral itself.

Wren's fourth design is known as the Warrant design because it received a Royal warrant for the rebuilding. In this design Wren sought to reconcile Gothic, the predominant style of English churches, to a "better manner of architecture." It has the longitudinal Latin Cross plan of a mediæval cathedral. It is of one and a half storeys and has classical porticos at the west and transept ends, influenced by Inigo Jones’s addition to Old St Paul's.[32] It is roofed at the crossing by a wide shallow dome supporting a drum with a second cupola from which rises a spire of seven diminishing stages. Vaughan Hart has suggested that influence may have been drawn from the oriental pagoda in the design of the spire. Not used at St Paul's, the concept was applied in the spire of St Bride's, Fleet Street.[35] This plan was rotated slightly on its site so that it aligned not with true east, but with sunrise on Easter of the year construction began. This small change in configuration was informed by Wren's knowledge of astronomy.[14]

The Greek Cross Design
The Warrant Design
St Paul's, as it was built

Final design

The final design as built differs substantially from the official Warrant design. [36] }} 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: "He raised another structure over the first cupola, a cone of brick, so as to support a stone lantern of an elegant figure... And he covered and hid out of sight the brick cone with another cupola of timber and lead; and between this and the cone are easy stairs that ascend to the lantern" (Christopher Wren, son of Sir Christopher Wren). The final design was strongly rooted in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. The saucer domes over the nave were inspired by François Mansart's Church of the Val-de-Grâce, which Wren had seen during a trip to Paris in 1665.[34]

The date of the laying of the first stone of the cathedral is disputed. One contemporary account says it was on 21 June 1675, another on 25 June and a third on 28 June. There is, however, general agreement that it was laid in June 1675. Edward Strong later claimed it was laid by his elder brother, Thomas Strong, one of the two master stonemasons appointed by Wren at the beginning of the work.[37]

Cross-section showing the brick cone between the inner and outer domes
William Dickinson's plan for the floor paving (1709–10)

Structural engineering

Wren's challenge was to construct a large cathedral on the relatively weak clay soil of London. St Paul's is unusual among cathedrals in that there is a crypt, the largest in Europe, under the entire building rather than just under the eastern end.[38] The crypt serves a structural purpose. Although it is extensive, half the space of the crypt is taken up by massive piers which spread the weight of the much slimmer piers of the church above. While the towers and domes of most cathedrals are supported on four piers, Wren designed the dome of St Paul's to be supported on eight, achieving a broader distribution of weight at the level of the foundations.[39] The foundations settled as the building progressed, and Wren made structural changes in response.[40]

One of the design problems that confronted Wren was to create a landmark dome, tall enough to visually replace the lost tower of St Paul's, while at the same time appearing visually satisfying when viewed from inside the building. Wren planned a double-shelled dome, as at St Peter's Basilica.[41] His solution to the visual problem was to separate the heights of the inner and outer dome to a much greater extent than had been done by Michelangelo at St Peter's, drafting both as catenary curves, rather than as hemispheres. Between the inner and outer domes, Wren inserted a brick cone which supports both the timbers of the outer, lead covered dome and the weight of the ornate stone lantern that rises above it. Both the cone and the inner dome are 18 inches thick and are supported by wrought iron chains at intervals in the brick cone and around the cornice of the peristyle of the inner dome to prevent spreading and cracking.[39][42]

The Warrant Design showed external buttresses on the ground floor level. These were not a classical feature and were one of the first elements Wren changed. Instead he made the walls of the cathedral particularly thick to avoid the need for external buttresses altogether. The clerestorey and vault are reinforced with flying buttresses, which were added at a relatively late stage in the design to give extra strength.[43] These are concealed behind the screen wall of the upper storey which was added to keep the building's classical style intact, to add sufficient visual mass to balance the appearance of the dome and which, by its weight, counters the thrust of the buttresses on the lower walls.[39][41]

Designers, builders and craftsmen

During the extensive period of design and rationalisation Wren employed from 1684 Nicholas Hawksmoor as his principal assistant.[35] }} Between 1696 and 1711 William Dickinson was measuring clerk.[44] Joshua Marshall (until his early death in 1678), and Thomas and his brother Edward Strong were master masons, the latter two working on the construction for its entirety. John Langland was the master Carpenter for over thirty years.[29] Grinling Gibbons was the chief sculptor, working in both stone on the building itself, including the pediment of the north portal, and wood on the internal fittings.[29] The sculptor Caius Gabriel Cibber created the pediment of the south transept[45] while Francis Bird was responsible for the relief in the west pediment depicting the Conversion of St Paul, as well as the seven large statues on the west front.[46] The floor was paved by William Dickinson in black and white marble in 1709–10[47] Jean Tijou was responsible for the decorative wrought ironwork of gates and balustrades.[29] The ball and cross on the dome were provided by an armorer, Andrew Niblett.[48]



St Paul's Cathedral is built in a restrained Baroque style which represents Wren's rationalisation of the traditions of English mediæval cathedrals with the inspiration of Palladio, the classical style of Inigo Jones, the baroque style of 17th-century Rome, and the buildings by Mansart and others that he had seen in France.[2]

It is particularly in its plan that St Paul's reveals mediæval influences.[39] Like the great mediæval cathedrals of York and Winchester, St Paul's is comparatively long for its width, and has strongly projecting transepts. It has much emphasis on its facade, which has been designed to define rather than conceal the form of the building behind it. In plan, the towers jut beyond the width of the aisles as they do at Wells Cathedral. Wren's brother was the Bishop of Ely, and Wren was familiar with the unique octagonal lantern tower over the crossing of Ely Cathedral which spans the aisles as well as the central nave, unlike the central towers and domes of most churches. Wren adapted this characteristic in designing the dome of St Paul's.[39] In section St Paul's also maintains a mediæval form, having the aisles much lower than the nave, and a defined clerestory.


The most notable exterior feature is the dome, which rises 365 feet to the cross at its summit,[49] and dominates views of the City. The height of 365 feet is explained by Wren's interest in astronomy. Until the late 20th century St Paul's was the tallest building on the City skyline, designed to be seen surrounded by the delicate spires of Wren's other city churches. The dome is described by Sir Banister Fletcher as "probably the finest in Europe", by Helen Gardner as "majestic", and by Sir Nikolaus Pevsner as "one of the most perfect in the world". Sir John Summerson said that Englishmen and "even some foreigners" consider it to be without equal.[50]

The dome


Wren drew inspiration from Michelangelo's dome of St Peter's Basilica, and that of Mansart's Church of the Val-de-Grâce which he had visited.[51] Unlike those of St Peter's and Val-de-Grâce, the dome of St Paul's rises in two clearly defined storeys of masonry, which, together with a lower unadorned footing, equal a height of about 95 feet. From the time of the Greek Cross Design it is clear that Wren favoured a continuous colonnade (peristyle) around the drum of the dome, rather than the arrangement of alternating windows and projecting columns that Michelangelo had used and which had also been employed by Mansart.[52] Summerson suggests that he was influence by Bramante's "Tempietto" in the courtyard of San Pietro in Montorio.[53] In the finished structure, Wren creates a diversity and appearance of strength by placing niches between the columns in every fourth opening.[53] The peristyle serves to buttress both the inner dome and the brick cone which rises internally to support the lantern.

Above the peristyle rises the second stage surrounded by a balustraded balcony called the "Stone Gallery". This attic stage is ornamented with alternating pilasters and rectangular windows which are set just below the cornice, creating a sense of lightness. Above this attic rises the dome, covered with lead, and ribbed in accordance with the spacing of the pilasters. It is pierced by eight light wells just below the lantern, but these are barely visible. They allow light to penetrate through openings in the brick cone, which illuminates the interior apex of this shell, partly visible from within the cathedral through the ocular opening of the lower dome.[39]

The lantern, like the visible masonry of the dome, rises in stages. The most unusual characteristic of this structure is that it is of square plan, rather than circular or octagonal. The tallest stage takes the form of a tempietto with four columned porticos facing the cardinal points. Its lowest level is surrounded by the "Golden Gallery" and its upper level supports a small dome from which rises a cross on a golden ball. The total weight of the lantern is about 850 tons.[17]

West front

The West Front

For the Renaissance architect designing the west front of a large church or cathedral, the universal problem was how to use a facade to unite the high central nave with the lower aisles in a visually harmonious whole. Since Alberti's additions to Santa Maria Novella in Florence, this was usually achieved by the simple expedient of linking the sides to the centre with large brackets. This is the solution that Wren saw employed by Mansart at Val-de-Grâce. Another feature employed by Mansart was a boldly projecting Classical portico with paired columns. Wren faced the additional challenge of incorporating towers into the design, as had been planned at St Peter's Basilica. At St Peter's, Carlo Maderno had solved this problem by constructing a narthex and stretching a huge screen facade across it, differentiated at the centre by a pediment. The towers at St Peter's were not built above the parapet.

Wren's solution was to employ a Classical portico, as at Val-de-Grâce, but rising through two storeys, and supported on paired columns. The remarkable feature here is that the lower storey of this portico extends to the full width of the aisles, while the upper section defines the nave that lies behind it. The gaps between the upper stage of the portico and the towers on either side are bridged by a narrow section of wall with an arch-topped window.

The towers stand outside the width of the aisles, but screen two chapels located immediately behind them. The lower parts of the towers continue the theme of the outer walls, but are differentiated from them in order to create an appearance of strength. The windows of the lower storey are smaller than those of the side walls and are deeply recessed, a visual indication of the thickness of the wall. The paired pilasters at each corner project boldly.

Above the main cornice, which unites the towers with the portico and the outer walls, the details are boldly scaled, in order to read well from the street below and from a distance. The towers rise above the cornice from a square block plinth which is plain apart from large oculi, that on the south being filled by the clock, while that on the north is void. The towers are composed of two complementary elements, a central cylinder rising through the tiers in a series of stacked drums, and paired Corinthian columns at the corners, with buttresses above them, which serve to unify the drum shape with the square plinth on which it stands. The entablature above the columns breaks forward over them to express both elements, tying them together in a single horizontal band. The cap, like a bell-shaped miniature dome, supports a gilded finial, a pineapple supported on four scrolling angled brackets, the topmost expression of the consistent theme.

The transepts each have a semi-circular entrance portico. Wren was inspired in the design by studying engravings of Pietro da Cortona's Baroque facade of Santa Maria della Pace in Rome.[54] }} These projecting arcs echo the shape of the apse at the eastern end of the building.


St Paul's from the south-east

The building is of two storeys of ashlar masonry, above a basement, and surrounded by a balustrade above the upper cornice. The balustrade was added, against Wren's wishes, in 1718.[54] }} The internal bays are marked externally by paired pilasters with Corinthian capitals at the lower level and Composite at the upper level. Where the building behind is of only one storey (at the aisles of both nave and choir) the upper storey of the exterior wall is sham.[17] It serves a dual purpose of supporting the buttresses of the vault, and providing a satisfying appearance when viewed rising above buildings of the height of the 17th century city. This appearance may still be seen from across the River Thames.

Between the pilasters on both levels are windows. Those of the lower storey have semi-circular heads and are surrounded by continuous mouldings of a Roman style, rising to decorative keystones. Beneath each window is a floral swag by Grinling Gibbons, constituting the finest stone carving on the building and some of the greatest architectural sculpture in Britain. A frieze with similar swags runs in a band below the cornice, tying the arches of the windows and the capitals. The upper windows are of a restrained Classical form, with pediments set on columns, but are blind and contain niches. Beneath these niches, and in the basement level, are small windows with segmental tops, the glazing of which catches the light and visually links them to the large windows of the aisles. The height from ground level to the top of the parapet is approximately 110 feet.

The nave, looking towards the choir
The choir, looking towards the nave


Internally, St Paul's has a nave and choir each of three bays. The entrance from the west portico is through a square domed narthex, flanked on either side by chapels: the Chapel of St Dunstan to the north and the Chapel of the Order of St Michael and St George to the south side.[39] The nave is 91 feet in height and is separated from the aisles by an arcade of piers with attached Corinthian pilasters rising to an entablature. The bays, and therefore the vault compartments, are rectangular, but Wren has ingeniously roofed these spaces with saucer-shaped domes and surrounded the clerestorey windows with lunettes.[39] The vaults of the choir have been lavishly decorated with mosaics by Sir William Blake Richmond.[39] The dome and the apse of the choir are all approached through wide arches with coffered vaults which contrast with the smooth surface of the domes and punctuate the division between the main spaces. The transepts extend to the north and south of the dome and are called (in this instance) the North Choir and the South Choir.

The choir holds the stalls for the clergy and the choir, and the organ. These wooden fittings, including the pulpit and Bishop's throne, were designed in Wren's office and built by joiners. The carvings are the work of Grinling Gibbons who Summerson describes as having "astonishing facility" and suggests that Gibbons aim was to reproduce popular Dutch flower painting in wood.[29] Jean Tijou, a French metalworker, provided various wrought iron and gilt grills, gates and balustrades of elaborate design, of which many pieces have now been combined into the gates near the sanctuary.[29]

The cathedral is some 574 feet in length (including the portico of the Great West Door), of which 223 feet is the nave and 167 feet is the choir.

The width of the nave is 121 feet and across the transepts is 246 feet. The cathedral is thus slightly shorter but somewhat wider than Old St Paul's.


The interior of the dome
An arch spanning the aisle

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 eight piers that carry them are not evenly spaced. Wren has maintained an appearance of eight equal spans by inserting segmental arches to carry galleries across the ends of the aisles, and has extended the mouldings of the upper arch to appear equal to the wider arches.[41]

Above the keystones of the arches, at 99 feet above the floor and 112 feet wide, runs a cornice which supports the Whispering Gallery so called because of its acoustic properties: a whisper or low murmur against its wall at any point is audible to a listener with an ear held to the wall at any other point around the gallery. It is reached by 259 steps from ground level.

The dome is raised on a tall drum surrounded by pilasters and pierced with windows in groups of three, separated by eight gilded niches containing statues, and repeating the pattern of the peristyle on the exterior. the dome rises above a gilded cornice at 173 feet to a height of 214 feet. Its painted decoration by Sir James Thornhill shows eight scenes from the life of St Paul, set in illusionistic architecture which continues the forms of the eight niches of the drum.[55] At the apex of the dome is an oculus inspired by that of the Pantheon in Rome. Through this hole can be seen the decorated inner surface of the cone which supports the lantern. This upper space is lit by the light wells in the outer dome and openings in the brick cone. Engravings of Thornhill's paintings were published in 1720.[56]

The choir, looking east
The apse and the Lord's Table


The eastern apse extends the width of the choir and is the full height of the main arches across choir and nave. It is decorated with mosaics, in keeping with the choir vaults. The original reredos and high altar were destroyed by bombing in 1940. The present main Communion Table and baldacchino are the work of W. Godfrey Allen and Stephen Dykes Bower.[38]

The apse was dedicated in 1958 as the American Memorial Chapel.[57] It was paid for entirely by donations from British people.[58] The Roll of Honour contains the names of more than 28,000 Americans who gave their lives while on their way to, or stationed in, the United Kingdom during the Second World War.[59] It is in front of the chapel's altar. The three windows of the apse date from 1960 and depict themes of service and sacrifice, while the insignia around the edges represent the American states and the US armed forces. The limewood panelling incorporates a rocket—a tribute to America's achievements in space.[60]

Artworks, tombs and memorials

St Paul's at the time of its completion, was adorned by sculpture in stone and wood, most notably that of Grinling Gibbons, by the paintings in the dome by Thornhill, and by Jean Tijou's elaborate metalwork. It has been further enhanced by Sir William Richmond's mosaics and the fittings by Dykes Bower and Godfrey Allen.[38] Other artworks in the cathedral include, in the south aisle, William Holman Hunt's copy of his painting The Light of the World (painting)|The Light of the World, the original of which hangs in Keble College, Oxford. In the north choir aisle is a limestone sculpture of the Madonna and Child by Henry Moore, carved in 1943.[38] The crypt contains over 200 memorials and numerous burials. Christopher Wren was the first person to be interred, in 1723. On the wall above his tomb in the crypt is written in Latin: Lector, si monumentum requiris, circumspice ("Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you").

The largest monuments in the cathedral are those in the crypt over the graves of the Duke of Wellington and to Lord Nelson. Around then are lesser memorials to officiers of the navy, clustred around Nelson, and to officers of the army, around Wellington

The Wellington memorial by Alfred Stevens stands on the north side of the nave and has on top a statue of Wellington astride his horse "Copenhagen". Although the equestrian figure was planned at the outset, objections to the notion of having a horse in the church prevented its installation until 1912. The horse and rider are by John Tweed. The Duke is buried in the crypt.[38]

The tomb of Horatio, Lord Nelson is close to that of Wellington.[61] The marble sarcophagus which holds his remains was made for Cardinal Wolsey but was disused as the cardinal fell from favour.[38]

At the eastern end of the crypt is the Chapel of the Order of the British Empire, instigated in 1917, and designed by Lord Mottistone.[38] There are many other memorials commemorating the British military, including several lists of servicemen who died in action, the most recent being the Gulf War.

Also remembered are Florence Nightingale, J. M. W. Turner, Arthur Sullivan, Hubert Parry, Samuel Johnson, T. E. Lawrence ('Lawrence of Arabia'), William Blake and Sir Alexander Fleming as well as clergy and residents of the local parish.

One of the most remarkable sculptures is that of the Dean and poet, John Donne. Before his death, Donne posed for his own memorial statue and was depicted by Nicholas Stone as wrapped in a burial shroud, and standing on a funeral urn. The sculpture, carved around 1630, is the only one to have survived the conflagration of 1666 intact.[38] The treasury is also in the crypt but the cathedral has very few treasures as many have been lost, and on 22 December 1810 a major robbery took almost all of the remaining precious artefacts.[62]

360° view of the interior near the Lord's Table

Clock and bells

The south-west tower contains a clock, of which the present mechanism was built in 1893 by Smith of Derby incorporating a design of escapement by Edmund Denison Beckett similar to that used by Edward Dent on the 'Big Ben' mechanism in 1895. The clock mechanism is 5.8 metres long and is the most recent of the clocks introduced to St Paul's Cathedral over the centuries. Since 1969 the clock has been electrically wound with equipment designed and installed by Smith of Derby, relieving the clock custodian from the work of cranking up the heavy drive weights.

The south-west tower also contains four bells of which Great Paul, cast in 1881 by Taylor's bell foundry of Loughborough, Leicestershire, at 16½ tons was the largest bell in the British Isles until the casting of the Olympic Bell for the 2012 London Olympics.[63] This bell has traditionally sounded at 1 o'clock each day. Great Paul has not been rung for several years because of a broken chiming mechanism.[64] The clock bells included Great Tom, which was moved from St Stephen's Chapel at the Palace of Westminster and has been recast several times, the last time by Richard Phelps. It chimes the hour and is traditionally tolled on occasions of a death in the royal family, the Bishop of London, or the Lord Mayor of London, although an exception was made at the death of the US president James Garfield.[65] It was last tolled for the death of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, in 2002.[63]

In 1717, Richard Phelps cast two more bells that were added as "quarter jacks" that ring on the quarter-hour. Still in use today, the first weighs 13 cwt, is 41 inches in diameter and is tuned to A flat; the second weighs 35 cwt and is 58 inches in diameter and is tuned to E flat.

The north-west tower contains a peal of 12 bells by Taylor of Loughborough hung for change ringing and the original service or "Communion Bell" dating from 1700 and known as "the Banger" which is rung before 8.00 am services.[63]

The south-west tower

Depictions of St Paul's

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.

St Paul's Cathedral has been the subject of many photographs, most notably the iconic image of the dome surrounded by smoke during the Blitz.(see above) It has also been used in films and TV programmes, either as the focus of the film, as in the episode of Climbing Great Buildings; as a feature of the film, as in Mary Poppins; or as an incidental location such as the staircase of the south-west tower which has appeared in several movies including Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

Films in which St Paul's has appeared include:

  • Lawrence of Arabia (1962) shows the exterior of the building and T E Lawrence's bust.
  • Mary Poppins (1964) shows the front and outside of the Cathedral, though it shows the space from the missing clock, when that was caused by bombing during Second World War, 30 years after the film was set.
  • St Paul's Cathedral has appeared numerous times in Doctor Who, most notably the 1968 episode, "The Invasion". In one scene, a group of Cybermen are shown climbing out of some manholes in Central London, before descending a stairway in front of the Cathedral.
  • Saint Paul's is seen briefly in the Goodies episode "Kitten Kong" (1971). During his rampage through London, Twinkle does damage to various London landmarks, including Saint Paul's Cathedral, which has its dome knocked off when he bursts out of the centre of the famous church.
  • The Madness of King George (1994) shows the Geometric Staircase in the South West Bell Tower.
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) shows the Geometric Staircase in the South West Bell Tower, representing the staircase towards the Divination classroom.
  • Industrial Revelations: Best of British Engineering – Buildings, with Rory McGrath series 5, episode 1, 2008, focuses on St Paul's Cathedral.
  • Sherlock Holmes (2009) shows the North side of the West Steps, and the Geometric Staircase in the South West Bell Tower.
  • Climbing Great Buildings (2010)
  • Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) depicts St Paul's in 23rd-century London along with other notable modern-day London buildings.

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about St Paul's Cathedral)


St Paul's illuminated behind the Millennium Bridge
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Colgrave & Mynors edition (Clarendon, 1969), page 142–143

Further reading

  • Atkinson, Frank (1985), St Paul's and the City, Park Lane Press, London: Michael Joseph, ISBN 0-7181-2629-7  — With numerous photographic plates, both in colour, and black and white).
  • Clifton-Taylor, Alec (1967), The Cathedrals of England, Thames and Hudson 
  • John Harvey (historian) (1961), English Cathedrals, Batsford 
  • Hood, Frederic (1967), The Chapel of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire  — With a foreword by Prince Phillip. It contains 65 pages of mainly colour plates on glossy paper relating to St Paul's Cathedral and is a republished section of the book published by the Oxford University Press.
  • Owen, James (2010), Danger UXB, Little, Brown, ISBN 978-1-4087-0255-0  — contains a chapter on St Paul's in wartime and the unexploded bomb which closed it
  • Tatton-Brown, Tim; Crook, John (2002), The English Cathedral, New Holland Publishers, ISBN 1-84330-120-2 
Cathedrals of the Church of England

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Province of Canterbury: BirminghamBristolBury St EdmundsCanterburyChelmsfordChichesterCoventryDerbyElyExeterGibraltarGloucesterGuildfordHerefordLeicesterLichfieldLincolnNorwichOxfordPeterboroughPortsmouthRochesterSt AlbansSt Paul's (London) • SalisburySouthwarkTruroWellsWinchesterWorcester

  1. Geffen, Anthony (producer) (8 July 2014), "Time Scanners: St. Paul's Cathedral", Scanners, Atlantic Productions,