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Modern Britain

Gallery: Churches of Central London

by Peter Kessler, 8 November 2009

 

 

City of London Part 1: St Paul's Cathedral

St Paul's Cathedral

St Paul's Cathedral is situated in the western half of the former Roman City of London. Its earliest ancestor existed by AD 314, when Restitutus became the first bishop of London, although its location is unknown. In AD 604, the first Christian chapel dedicated to St Paul was built on the current site in wood by Mellitus, bishop of the East Saxons, amidst the ruins of a Roman London that had been virtually abandoned, possibly for up to a century. This burned down in 675.

St Paul's Cathedral

Rebuilt ten years later the new cathedral, also made of wood, was destroyed by Vikings in 962. A new church was then built in stone but this too was destroyed by fire, one which swept through the entire medieval city in 1087. The new Norman rulers of England were determined to replace it with the longest Christian church in the world. Work on this was completed in 1240, despite a fire in 1136, but enlargement work began less than twenty years later and lasted until 1314.

St Paul's Cathedral

The cathedral was finally consecrated in 1300, more than 200 years after it was started. The body of the building was made of stone. The roof, however, was mainly wooden, because stone would have been too heavy to support. This choice of highly inflammable material was to have unfortunate consequences for Old St Paul's, as it later became known, when the Great Fire of London broke out in 1666. although the Norman cathedral was already in a state of disrepair by then.

St Paul's Cathedral

The English Reformation caused St Paul's some destruction and considerable loss of property and surrounding land, and lightening destroyed the spire in 1561. Inigo Jones carried out some important work in the 1630s, adding the west front, but the cathedral became badly run-down under the Commonwealth. Horses were stabled in the chancel, the nave was used as a marketplace, and a road ran through the transepts. Then the Great Fire struck, destroying the cathedral.

St Paul's Cathedral

In 1668 the remains of the old cathedral were demolished. A new one was designed by Christopher Wren and built between 1675 and 1710, its architectural and artistic importance reflecting the determination of the five monarchs who oversaw its building that London's leading church should be as beautiful and imposing as their private palaces. The first service was held in the cathedral in 1697 for which vast crowds turned up to hear the bishop of London preach.

St Paul's Cathedral

In the mid-nineteenth century, Queen Victoria complained that the interior was "most dreary, dingy and undevotional", so mosaics were installed. Remarkably, the cathedral escaped any serious damage during the Blitz of 1940, becoming a symbol of London's defiance. The most serious threat was a time-delayed bomb which hit the cathedral and had to be defused and removed by a bomb disposal squad. Today, St Paul's has been thoroughly cleaned and refurbished.

Two photos on this page licensed for re-use under a Creative Commons Licence by Graham Horn & John Salmon at Geograph British Isles.

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