St Paul’s Cathedral is located on the highest spot in the city, Ludgate Hill, in the City of London. It is thought that there has been a cathedral on the site since 604 AD. This and three subsequent cathedrals were all destroyed by fire, the last perishing in 1666 during the Great Fire of London. After the fire, Sir Christopher Wren was appointed to build a new St Paul’s. He came up with three separate designs, the third of which was accepted. Preliminary work started in 1675 with the completion of the cathedral in 1708. The result was the magnificent building we can see today, with a dome that has become one of the most iconic sights in London.
St Paul’s Cathedral
On entering the cathedral the first thing that the visitor sees is the Nave. The cathedral has been designed in the shape of a cross, and this is the long central area that leads to the dome. The area under the dome is where the congregation sits when large services are held. There are three chapels in this part of the cathedral, in the north aisle, which is located to the left as you enter from the Great West Door, are the chapels of All Souls and St Dunstan’s, and in the south aisle, the chapel of St Michael and St George. Also located in the north aisle is the monument to the Duke of Wellington, one of Britain’s greatest solders, who later went on to become the Prime Minister. Although Wellington died in 1852, the memorial to him was not completed until 1912. In the south transept can be found the monument to Britain’s greatest naval hero, Admiral Lord Nelson, who died at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Other memorials honour JMW Turner, the landscape painter, and Captain Robert Scott who died in 1912 when returning from the South Pole.
The Quire is the area where the clergy and choir normally sit during services. The choir stalls feature carvings by Grinling Gibbons a much sought after carver of whose work can also be seen in some great houses and royal palaces. The cathedral organ was installed in 1695. Its casing also features carvings by Grindling Gibbons, and is the third largest organ in the UK. The alter would have originally been a simple affair but in Victorian times this was changed to a large marble alter and screen. This was damaged when a bomb hit St Paul’s during World War II It was replaced in 1958 by the present alter, made of marble and carved oak with a gilded finish.
The dome is just over 111 metres high and weighs an estimated 65,000 tons. The dome was constructed using what is known as a three dome structure. The result of this is that the inner dome rises in proportion to the internal architecture of the building, where the outer dome can be built much bigger so giving a much more impressive appearance from the outside. Between these two domes is a third dome, the purpose of which is to provide strength and support to the rest of the structure. Climb the steps of the dome and you will get to the Whispering Gallery, which runs around the dome’s interior. The gallery got its name because if you whisper against the wall, someone on the other side of the dome will be able to hear you. Above the Whispering Gallery, sits the Stone Gallery. This gallery runs around the outside of the dome so giving the visitor excellent views of the city, and the opportunity to take some great photos. The top gallery is known as the Golden Gallery. And from here the views are even better. Access to the galleries are by steps which become very narrow, so it is impossible to pass. To solve this problem, the cathedral operates a one way system, so if you are not sure you can make it to the top, this part of your visit would be best avoided.
The Nave may be the location of the grand monuments but the actual burials are located in the crypt. Amongst the most famous of the occupants are Nelson, Wellington, and of course the great architect, Sir Christopher Wren. Nelson’s coffin is constructed using wood from a French ship that had been defeated in battle. The black marble sarcophagus was originally intended for Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor, Cardinal Wolsey. With Wolsey’s fall from favour, it remained unused until utilised for Nelson. Wellington’s casket is made from Cornish granite. The banners around his tomb were originally made for his funeral procession. Wren’s tomb is marked with a simple stone. Written above it in Latin is, Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you.
The Cathedral is normally open to visitors on Monday through to Saturday throughout the year. Sundays and religious holidays such as Easter and Christmas, are reserved for worshipers.