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St Paul's restored

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"The restoration of Christopher Wren's St Paul's Cathedral cost £40m, took 15 years, and was the first time that Sir Christopher Wren's masterpiece was comprehensively restored inside and out." It is "sparklingly beautiful".

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And yet, this is the way we will always see it in our heart, surviving Nazi German bombing during World War II and giving hope to freedom-loving people everywhere. Photo Credit: U.S. National Archives, 306-NT-3173V

Beginning

In 1668, Christopher Wren thought he had the commission to build the new cathedral of St Paul's after the old cathedral burned down in the Great Fire of London in 1666. A cathedral had stood on the site since AD 604.

Wren planned to build a new St Paul's at lightning, rather than the usual cathedral, speed. Given the need to rebuild shattered London, he had good cause to hurry. However, he had not counted on the large obstacles which stood in his way.

Trying to get it right

Born in 1632, Wren had become Professor of Astronomy at Oxford and an expert in mathematics, mechanics, surveying, microscopy and architecture. A natural bridge builder between mathematicians, inventors and scientists, he helped to found the Royal Society.

Wren worked on three designs for St Paul's with brilliance, verve, and speed but a committee of judges and clergymen rejected each one of them. Too Italian, insufficiently English, they had their reasons. Wren would rebuild more than fifty churches all over London, but he could not seem to get St Paul's right.

Finally in 1675 his revised design was approved, and construction began. The design was striking, but not as sensational as it would become. And another obstacle loomed. Pressing on London's weak clay soil, the cathedral's foundations were sinking. Wren would have to make adjustments to his design and his great dome.

Getting the dome up

Wren had designed St Paul's cathedral in the shape of a cross, with the dome rising above the intersection of the arms - the crossroads. As building continued over the next thirty years, he made many alterations to the dome so it would not fall down. It is 364 feet high and 65,000 tons in weight.

To pull off this feat, Wren placed three domes inside each other. Edward Rutherfurd writes in London -

"Between the domed ceiling seen from the interior and the metalled exterior roof which rises fifty feet higher, there was, not exactly a dome, but a massive brick cone, almost like a kiln." That cone supports the lantern on top and holds everything else in place as well. Around the base of the dome is a great double chain and all the way up the inner cone are bands of stone and iron chains "which hold everything tight, like the metal hoops round a barrel." Eight great pillars support the dome.

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Christopher Wren in 1711

Wren was in his seventies when the dome was being built. He used to be pulled up in a basket every week so he could inspect progress.

The men who had approved the design and who still survived must have been astonished. Charles II had told Wren he could make "ornamental changes", but the finished St Paul's looked spectacularly different from what had been outlined.

The Whispering Gallery runs round the interior of the dome. It acquired its name when it was realized that a whisper against its walls was audible on the opposite side of the dome.

looking up into St Paul's dome

Looking up into St Paul's dome.

"A sea of carving"

The first service in St Paul's was held on 2 December 1697 in the Quire, the part of the building where construction began. This is where the wood carvings of Grinling Gibbons can be seen – "a sea of carving. . .Spreading leaves and sinuous vines, flowers, trumpets, cherubic heads, festoons of fruit. . ." (London)

carved head of cherub

John Evelyn, who wrote a classic book on trees, saw Grinling Gibbons through a window, carving by candlelight. He introduced him to Christopher Wren.

Image: Historic Royal Palaces

"There is no instance of a man before Gibbons who gave wood the loose and airy lightness of flowers" (Horace Walpole) - or the softness of a sleeping child. Gibbons and his assistants carved several tons of oak with the greatest delicacy and inventiveness.

Parliament called St Paul's finished on December 25th, 1711, but Parliamentary statements being what they have been and are, construction went on for some years after that.

Still, the cathedral was done before Wren died at the age of 91. The renovation and cleaning have left the cathedral looking newborn. Wren would be pleased.

Men and women remembered

Members of British and American forces who gave their lives defending Britain and liberty during World War II are remembered here.

Horatio Nelson and Alexander Fleming are buried in St Paul's. Winston Churchill's funeral service took place here.

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There has been a choir singing at St Paul's for over nine centuries. Evensong is sung every day. On Sundays there are three choral services - Matins, Eucharist and Evensong.

Image: St Paul's Cathedral

Christopher Wren died on the 25th of February 1723, and was buried in the crypt of his cathedral. His son wrote a true epitaph -

Lector, Si Monumentum Requiris Circumspice" - Reader, if you seek his monument, look around.

The cathedral "points beyond ourselves. . ."

And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 13:13

Comments (1)

Not to detract in any way from St. Paul's, one of the great architectural accomplishments of man....but I did read somewhere that the Blitz photo was faked. Any opinion?
Obviously there was a great deal of bomb damage all around, but was St.Paul's at risk of burning?
T2

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