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.
Rebuilt ten years later the new cathedral, also
in wood, was destroyed by Vikings in 962. A new church was 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.
The cathedral was finally consecrated in 1300,
more than 200 years after it was started. The building's body 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.
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.
In 1668 the remains of the old cathedral were
demolished. A new one was designed by Christopher Wren, built
between 1675-1710, 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.
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.