St Paul’s Cathedral is the second largest church in area in the United Kingdom, surpassed only by Liverpool Cathedral, and its dome is among the highest in the world. It is the seat of the Bishop of London and the mother church of the Diocese of London. The Cathedral is major attraction and draws visitors with its magnificent history and breath-taking exterior and interior.
The Cathedral Through Time
The present Cathedral is the greatest work of Britain’s most renowned architect Sir Christopher Wren. However, it is at least the fourth church built at that site. The first one dates back to 604 AD when Mellitus was the first bishop to the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of the East Saxons. King Æthelberht of Kent built a church dedicated to St Paul as the seat of the new bishop. This earliest Cathedral had a relatively short life. It was burnt, with much of the city, in a fire in 1087 but the next building was begun by the Normans and survived for whole six hundred years. Its style changed from Romanesque to Gothic but the vault was built of wood rather than stone.
During the later medieval period only the Abbey Church of Cluny surpassed its length and the Lincoln Cathedral and St Mary’s Church – its spire’s height. In 1561, the spire was destroyed by lightning and in 1666 the Cathedral was burned down by the Great Fire of London. It was decided that the new Cathedral will be built in a modern style. It was the brilliant scientist, mathematician and Britain’s most celebrated architect Sir Christopher Wren who designed the new structure. The construction began in 1675 and the process took about thirty five years. The building became the symbol for the Church of England, the re-established capital, and the rising empire.
The dome of St Paul’s Cathedral was the tallest building in London for 300 years – from 1710 to 1962. It pierces the sky with its 111 meters in height. There are eight arches to support it and on top of it there is a large lantern. Tourists can visit the three galleries of the dome by climbing 560 steps. The Whispering Gallery just inside it is famous for its acoustics; the second one – the Stone Gallery, is situated on the outside; and the third – the Golden Gallery – on top of it, encircling the base of the lantern. From there, visitors enjoy a breath-taking view over the City.
The interior of the Cathedral is in the Baroque style and strikes the viewer with its Victorian mosaics, sculptures in stone and wood, paintings and monuments, the most notable being those to the Duke of Wellington, Admiral Nelson and Christopher Wren himself; and the only one that survived the Great Fire – the tomb of John Donne. The façade at the west side of the church is outstanding and consists of a grand portico (covered entrance to a building) added at the last minute in the building’s plan and bordered by two towers, and a pediment.
There are so many other worth visiting sights in London, beside St. Paul’s like:
- Big Ben
- Hyde Park
- London Eye
- Tower of London
- Tower Bridge
- Westminster Abbey
- Buckingham Palace
- British Museum
- National Gallery
The Cathedral has been featured in many photographs, the most widely known being the image of the dome encircled by smoke and fire during the Blitz (the frequent heavy bombing carried out over Britain during the Second World War), which it survived. To add, it has also been shown in films and TV programmes, the most famous of which have to be Mary Poppins and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.