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Churches of Central London

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Each tour aims to be city or county-wide in scope.

It usually starts at the county town or city centre and radiates outwards, covering the region on a district-by-district basis in the order shown on the map.

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Churches of the British Isles

Gallery: Churches of Central London

by Peter Kessler, 8 November 2009. Updated 2 October 2019

City of London Part 1: St Paul's Cathedral

St Paul's Cathedral, London

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, London

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.

St Paul's Cathedral, London

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.

St Paul's Cathedral, London

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, London

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.

St Paul's Cathedral, London

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.

One photo on this page by P L Kessler, with one kindly contributed by Sam Weller and two by Keith Bowden, all via the 'History Files: Churches of the British Isles' Flickr group, and two copyright © Graham Horn & John Salmon, and reused under a cc licence.



Images and text copyright © all contributors mentioned on this page. An original feature for the History Files.