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.
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 of 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...