St. Paul's cathedral

This article is about St Paul's cathedral in London, England. For other cathedrals of the same name, see St. Paul's Cathedral (disambiguation).

St Paul's
Cathedral Church of St Paul the Apostle

51°30′49″N 0°05′53″W / 51.513611°N 0.098056°W / 51.513611; -0.098056Coordinates: 51°30′49″N 0°05′53″W / 51.513611°N 0.098056°W / 51.513611; -0.098056

Location City of London
Country United Kingdom
Denomination Church of England
Website Consecrated 1708
Previous cathedrals 4
Architect(s) Sir Christopher Wren
Style English Baroque
Years built 1675-1720
Length 518ft (158m)
Nave width 121ft (37m)
Width across transepts 246ft (75m)
Height 365ft (111m)
Dome height (outer) 278ft (85m)
Dome height (inner) 225ft (68m)
Dome diameter (outer) 112ft (34m)
Dome diameter (inner) 102ft (31m)
Number of towers 2
Tower height 221ft (67m)
Diocese London (since 604)
Province Canterbury
Bishop(s) Richard Chartres
Dean David Ison
Precentor Michael Hampel
Canon Chancellor Mark Oakley
Canon Pastor Michael Colclough
Canon Treasurer Philippa Boardman
Director of music Andrew Carwood

St Paul's Cathedral, London, is a Church of England cathedral, the seat of the Bishop of London and mother church of the Diocese of London. It sits at the top of Ludgate Hill, the highest point in the City of London. Its dedication to Paul the Apostle dates back to the original church on this site, founded in AD 604.[1] The present church, dating from the late 17th century, was designed in the English Baroque style by Sir Christopher Wren. Its construction, completed within Wren's lifetime, was part of a major rebuilding program which took place in the city after the Great Fire of London.[2]

The cathedral is one of the most famous and most recognisable sights of London, with its dome, framed by the spires of Wren's City churches, dominating the skyline for 300 years.[3] At 365 feet (111 m) high, it was the tallest building in London from 1710 to 1962, and its dome is also among the highest in the world. In terms of area, St Paul's is the second largest church building in the United Kingdom after Liverpool Cathedral.

St Paul's Cathedral occupies a significant place in the national identity of the English population.[4] 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.[4] Important services held at St Paul's include the funerals of Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, Sir Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher; Jubilee celebrations for Queen Victoria; peace services marking the end of the First and Second World Wars; the wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales, and Lady Diana Spencer, the launch of the Festival of Britain and the thanksgiving services for the Golden Jubilee, the 80th Birthday and the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II. St Paul's Cathedral is a busy working church, with hourly prayer and daily services.


Pre-Norman cathedrals

There was a late-Roman episcopal see in London, and Bishop Restitutus of London attended the Council of Arles in AD 314. The location of Roman London's cathedral is unknown, although it has been argued that a large and ornate 4th-century building on Tower Hill, remains of which were excavated in 1989, may have been the cathedral.[5][6]

The Elizabethan antiquarian William Camden argued that a Roman temple dedicated to the goddess Diana had once stood on the site of the medieval St Paul's cathedral.[7] Christopher Wren reported that he had found no trace of any such temple during the works to build the new cathedral after the Great Fire, and Camden's hypothesis is not accepted by modern archaeologists.[8]

Bede records that in AD 604 St Augustine consecrated Mellitus as the first bishop to the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of the East Saxons and their king, Sæberht. Sæberht's uncle and overlord, Æthelberht, king of Kent, built a church dedicated to St Paul in London, as the seat of the new bishop.[9] It is assumed, although unproven, that this first Anglo-Saxon cathedral stood on the same site as the later medieval and the present cathedrals.

On the death of Sæberht in about 616, his pagan sons expelled Mellitus from London, and the East Saxons reverted to paganism. The fate of the first cathedral building is unknown. Christianity was restored among the East Saxons in the late 7th-century and it is presumed that either the Anglo-Saxon cathedral was restored or a new building erected as the seat of bishops such as Cedd, Wine and Earconwald, the last of whom was buried in the cathedral in 693. This building, or a successor, was destroyed by fire in 962, but rebuilt in the same year.[10] King Æthelred the Unready was buried in the cathedral on his death in 1016. The cathedral was burnt, with much of the city, in a fire in 1087, as recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.[10]

Old St Paul's

The fourth St Paul's, generally referred to as Old St Paul's, was begun by the Normans after the 1087 fire. A further fire in 1136 disrupted the work, and the new cathedral was not consecrated until 1240. During the period of construction, the style of architecture had changed from Romanesque to Gothic and this was reflected in the pointed arches and larger windows of the upper parts and East End of the building. The Gothic ribbed vault was constructed, like that of York Minster, of wood rather than stone, which affected the ultimate fate of the building.

An enlargement program commenced in 1256. This 'New Work' was consecrated in 1300 but not complete until 1314. During the later Medieval period St Paul's was exceeded in length only by the Abbey Church of Cluny and in the height of its spire only by Lincoln Cathedral and St. Mary's Church, Stralsund. Excavations by Francis Penrose in 1878 showed that it was 585 feet (178 m) long and 100 feet (30 m) wide (290 feet or 87 m across the transepts and crossing). The spire was about 489 feet (149 m).

By the 16th century the building was starting to decay. Under Henry VIII and Edward VI, the Dissolution of the Monasteries and Chantries Acts led to the destruction of interior ornamentation and the cloisters, charnels, crypts, chapels, shrines, chantries and other buildings in St Paul's Churchyard. Many of these former religious sites in the churchyard, having been seized by the Crown, were sold as shops and rental properties, especially to printers and booksellers, who were often Puritans. In 1561 the spire was destroyed by lightning, an event that was taken by both Protestants and Roman Catholics as a sign of God's displeasure at the other faction.

In the 1630s a west front was added to the building by England's first classical architect, Inigo Jones. There was much defacing and mistreatment of the building by Parliamentarian forces during the Civil War, and the old documents and charters were dispersed and destroyed.[11] During the Commonwealth, those churchyard buildings that were razed supplied ready-dressed building material for construction projects, such as the Lord Protector's city palace, Somerset House. Crowds were drawn to the northeast corner of the churchyard, St Paul's Cross, where open-air preaching took place.

In the Great Fire of London of 1666, Old St Pauls was gutted. While it might have been possible to reconstruct it, a decision was taken to build a new cathedral in a modern style. This course of action had been proposed even before the fire.

Present St Paul's

The task of designing a replacement structure was officially assigned to Sir Christopher Wren on 30 July 1669.[12] He had previously been put in charge of the rebuilding of churches to replace those lost in the Great Fire. More than fifty City churches are attributable to Wren. Concurrent with designing St Paul's, Wren was enagaged in the production of his five Tracts on Architecture.[13]

Wren had begun advising on the repair of the Old St Paul's in 1661, five years before the Great Fire of London in 1666.[14] The proposed work included renovations to both interior and exterior that would complement the Classical facade designed by Inigo Jones in 1630.[15] Wren planned to replace the dilapidated tower with a dome, using the existent structure as a scaffold. He produced a drawing of the proposed dome, showing that it was at this stage at which he conceived the idea that it should span both nave and aisles at the crossing.[16] After the fire, It was at first thought possible to retain a substantial part of the old cathedral, but ultimately the entire structure was demolished in the early 1670s to start afresh.

In July 1668 Dean William Sancroft wrote to Christopher Wren that he was charged by the Archbishop of Canterbury, in agreement with the Bishops of London and Oxford to design a new cathedral that was "handsome and noble to all the ends of it and to the reputation of the City and the nation".[17] The design process took several years, but a design was finally settled and attached to a royal warrant, with the proviso that Wren was permitted to make any further changes that he deemed necessary. The result was the present St Paul's Cathedral, still the second largest church in Britain and with a dome proclaimed as the finest in the world.[18] The building was financed by a tax on coal, and was completed within its architect's lifetime, and with many of the major contractors employed for the duration.

The "topping out" of the cathedral (when the final stone was placed on the lantern) took place on 26 October 1708, performed by Wren's son Christopher Jr and the son of one of the masons.[19] The cathedral was declared officially complete by Parliament on 25 December 1711 (Christmas Day).[20] In fact, construction was to continue for several years after that, with the statues on the roof only being added in the 1720s. In 1716 the total costs amounted to £1,095,556[21] (£139 million in 2014).[22]


On 2 December 1697, only thirty-two years and three months after the Great Fire destroyed Old St Paul's, the new cathedral was consecrated for use. The Right Reverend Henry Compton, Bishop of London, preached the sermon. It was based on the text of Psalm 122, "I was glad when they said unto me: Let us go into the house of the Lord." The first regular service was held on the following Sunday.

Opinions of Wren's cathedral differed, with some loving it: Without, within, below, above, the eye / Is filled with unrestrained delight,[23] while others hated it: ...There was an air of Popery about the gilded capitals, the heavy arches...They were unfamiliar, un-English...[24]

Since 1900

War damage

The cathedral survived despite being targeted during the Blitz — it was struck by bombs on 10 October 1940 and 17 April 1941. On 12 September 1940 a time-delayed bomb that had struck the cathedral was successfully defused and removed by a bomb disposal detachment of Royal Engineers under the command of Temporary Lieutenant Robert Davies. Had this bomb detonated, it would have totally destroyed the cathedral, as it left a 100-foot (30 m) crater when later remotely detonated in a secure location.[25] As a result of this action, Davies and Sapper George Cameron Wylie were both awarded the George Cross.[26] Davies' George Cross and other medals are on display at the Imperial War Museum, London.

One of the best known images of London during the war was a photograph of St Paul's taken on the 29 December 1940 during the "Second Great Fire of London" by photographer Herbert Mason, from the roof of the Daily Mail in Tudor Street showing the cathedral shrouded in smoke. Lisa Jardine of Queen Mary, University of London, has written:[27]

"Wreathed in billowing smoke, amidst the chaos and destruction of war, the pale dome stands proud and glorious – indomitable. At the height of that air-raid, Sir Winston Churchill telephoned the Guildhall to insist that all fire-fighting resources be directed at St Paul's. The cathedral must be saved, he said, damage to the fabric would sap the morale of the country."


Extensive copper, lead and slate renovation work on the Dome in 1996 by John B. Chambers. A 15-year restoration project – one of the largest ever undertaken in the UK – was completed on 15 June 2011.[28]

Occupy London

In October 2011 an anti-capitalism Occupy London encampment was established in front of the cathedral. The cathedral's finances came under scrutiny. It was claimed that the cathedral was losing revenue of £20,000 per day. [29] Canon Chancellor Giles Fraser resigned, warning that to evict the anti-capitalist activists would constitute “violence in the name of the Church".[30] The encampment was evicted at the end of February 2012, after legal action by the City Corporation.[31]


St Paul's Cathedral is a busy church with three or four services every day, including Matins, Eucharist and Evening Prayer or Evensong. In addition, the Cathedral has many special services associated with the City of London, its corporation, guilds and institutions. The cathedral, as the largest church in London, also has a role in many state functions such as the service celebrating the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. The cathedral is generally open daily to tourists, and has a regular program of organ recitals and other performances.[32] The Bishop of London is The Right Reverend Richard Chartres who was installed in January 1996.

Dean and chapter

The Chapter comprises the Dean and four Residentiary Canons, each with a different responsibility in the running of the cathedral. [33]

  • Dean – The Very Revd Dr David Ison (since 25 May 2012)[34]
  • Pastor – The Rt Revd Michael Colclough (since 20 April 2008) is responsible for the pastoral needs of the staff and all visitors to the cathedral.[35]
  • Chancellor – The Revd Canon Mark Oakley (since 11 January 2013). Previously Treasurer of St Paul's, Canon Oakley is in charge of the cathedral's educational outreach to schools and the public.[36]
  • Precentor – The Revd Canon Michael Hampel (since 25 March 2011), is responsible for music at the cathedral. [37]
  • Treasurer – Revd Preb Philippa Boardman (May 2013) is responsible for finance and for the cathedral building.[38]

College of Minor Canons

There are three Minor Canons who co-ordinate many aspects of the daily running of the cathedral, conducting services, arranging liturgy and music, acting as chaplain, and facilitating the needs of visitors and school groups.

  • Sacrist – The Revd Jason Rendell (since June 2007), has been appointed as Chaplain to the Bishop of Chichester (June 2013).[33][32]
  • Chaplain – The Revd Sarah Eynstone (since 12 January 2010 installation)[39]
  • Succentor – The Revd Jonathan Coore (since 19 September 2012 installation)[40]



The organ was commissioned from Bernard Smith in 1694.[41] The current instrument is the third-largest in Great Britain in terms of number of pipes (7,266), with 5 manuals, 189 ranks of pipes and 108 stops, enclosed in an impressive case designed in Wren's workshop and decorated by Grinling Gibbons.[42]

Details of the organ from the National Pipe Organ Register


St Paul's Cathedral has a choir of men and boys to sing regularly at services. The earliest records of the choir date from 1127. The present choir consist of thirty boy choristers, eight probationers, and the Vicars Choral of twelve men who are professional singers. During school terms the choir sings at Evensong six times per week, the service on Thursdays being sung by the Vicars Choral without the boys. On Sundays the choir also sings at Matins and Eucharist.[43]

Many distinguished musicians have been organists, choir masters and choristers at St Pauls Cathedral including the composers John Redford, Thomas Morley, John Blow, Jeremiah Clarke and John Stainer, while well known performers have included Alfred Deller, John Shirley-Quirk, Anthony Way and the conductors Charles Groves and Paul Hillier, and the poet Walter de la Mare.

Wren's cathedral

Development of the design

"Sir Christopher Wren
Said, "I am going to dine with some men.
If anyone calls,
Say I'm designing Saint Paul's."

A clerihew by Edmund Clerihew Bentley

In the designing of St Paul's, Christopher Wren had to meet many challenges. He had to create a fitting cathedral to replace Old St Paul's, both as a place of worship and as a landmark within the City of London. He had to satisfy both the requirements of the church and the tastes of a royal patron. As well as respecting the essentially Medieval tradition of English church building that had grown and developed to accommodate the liturgy, Wren was familiar with contemporary Renaissance and Baroque trends in Italian architecture, and had visited France, where he studied the work of François Mansart.

St Paul's went through five general stages of design. The first survives only in the form of a part of a model and a single drawing. The scheme (usually called the First Model Design) appears to have consisted of a circular domed vestibule (possibly based on the Pantheon in Rome) and a rectangular church of basilica form. The plan may have been influenced by the Temple Church. It was rejected because it was not thought "stately enough"[44] Wren's second design was a Greek cross, which was thought by the clerics not to fulfil the requirements of Anglican liturgy.[45]

Wren's third design is embodied in the "Great Model" of 1673. The model, made of oak and plaster, cost over £500 (approximately £32,000 today) and is over 13 feet (4 m) tall and 21 feet (6 m) long.[46] This design retained the form of the Greek Cross design but extended it with a nave. His critics, members of a committee commissioned to rebuild the church and members of the clergy, decried the design as being too dissimilar from other English churches to suggest any continuity within the Church of England. Another problem was that the entire design would have to be completed all at once because of the eight central piers that supported the dome, instead of being completed in stages and opened for use before construction finished, as was customary. Wren considered the Great Model his favourite design, and thought it a reflection of Renaissance beauty.[13] After the Great Model, Wren resolved to make no more models or publicly expose his drawings, which he found to do nothing but "lose time, and subject his business many times, to incompetent judges".[45]

Wren's fourth design is known as the Warrant design because it was affixed a Royal warrant for the rebuilding. In this deign Wren sought to reconcile Gothic, the predominant style of English churches, to a "better manner of architecture." It has the longitudinal Latin Cross plan of a medieval cathedral. It is of one and a half storeys and has classical porticos at the west, and transept ends, influenced by Inigo Jones’s addition to Old St Paul's.[45] It is roofed at the crossing by a wide shallow dome supporting a drum with a second cupola from which rises a spire of seven diminishing stages. Vaughan Hart has suggested that influenced may have been drawn from the oriental pagoda in the design of the spire. Although not used at St Paul's, the concept was applied in the spire of St Bride's, Fleet Street.[13] This plan was rotated slightly on its site so that it aligned not with true east, but with sunrise on Easter of the year construction began. This small change in configuration was informed by Wren's knowledge of astronomy.[15]

The Greek Cross Design
The Warrant Design
St Paul's, as it was built

Final design

The final design as built differs substantially from the official Warrant design.[47] 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: "He raised another structure over the first cupola, a cone of brick, so as to support a stone lantern of an elegant figure... And he covered and hid out of sight the brick cone with another cupola of timber and lead; and between this and the cone are easy stairs that ascend to the lantern" (Christopher Wren, son of Sir Christopher Wren). The final design was strongly rooted in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. The saucer domes over the nave were inspired by François Mansart's Church of the Val-de-Grâce, which Wren had seen during a trip to Paris in 1665.[13]

The date of the laying of the first stone of the cathedral is disputed. One contemporary account says it was on 21 June 1675, another on 25 June and a third on 28 June. There is, however, general agreement that it was laid in June 1675. Edward Strong later claimed it was laid by his elder brother, Thomas Strong, one of the two master stonemasons appointed by Wren at the beginning of the work.[48]

Cross-section showing the brick cone between the inner and outer domes
William Dickinson's plan for the floor paving (1709-10)

Structural engineering

Wren's challenge was to construct a large cathedral on the relatively weak clay soil of London. St Paul's is unusual among cathedrals in that there is a crypt, the largest in Europe, under the entire building rather than just under the eastern end.[49] The crypt serves a structural purpose. Although it is extensive, half the space of the crypt is taken up by massive piers which spread the weight of the much slimmer piers of the church above. While the towers and domes of most cathedrals are supported on four piers, Wren designed the dome of St Paul's to be supported on eight, achieving a broader distribution of weight at the level of the foundations.[50] The foundations settled as the building progressed, and Wren made structural changes in response.[51]

One of the design problems that confronted Wren was to create a landmark dome, tall enough to visually replace the lost tower of St Paul's, while at the same time appearing visually satisfying when viewed from inside the building. Wren planned a double-shelled dome, as at St Peter's Basilica.[52] His solution to the visual problem was to separate the heights of the inner and outer dome to a much greater extent than had ben done by Michelangelo at St Peter's, drafting both as catenary curves, rather than as hemispheres. Between the inner and outer domes, Wren inserted a brick cone which supports both the timbers of the outer, lead covered dome and the weight of the ornate stone lantern that rises above it. Both the cone and the inner dome are 18 inches thick and are supported by wrought iron chains at intervals in the brick cone and around the cornice of the peristyle of the inner dome to prevent spreading and cracking.[53][50]

The Warrant Design showed external buttresses on the ground floor level. These were not a classical feature and were one of the first elements Wren changed. Instead he made the walls of the cathedral particularly thick to avoid the need for external buttresses altogether. The clerestorey and vault are reinforced with flying buttresses, which were added at a relatively stage in the design to give extra strength.[54] These are concealed behind the screen wall of the upper storey which was added to keep the building's classical style intact, to add sufficient visual mass to balance the appearance of the dome and which, by its weight, counters the thrust of the buttresses on the lower walls.[50][52]

Designers, builders and craftsmen

During the extensive period of design and rationalisation Wren employed from 1684 Nicholas Hawksmoor as his principal assistant.[13] Between 1696 and 1711 William Dickinson was measuring clerk.[55] Joshua Marshall (until his early death in 1678), and Thomas and his brother Edward Strong were master masons, the latter two working on the construction for its entirety. John Langland was the master Carpenter for over thirty years.[42] Grinling Gibbons was the chief sculptor, working in both stone on the building itself, including the pediment of the north portal, and wood on the internal fittings.[42] The sculptor Caius Gabriel Cibber created the pediment of the south transept[56] while Francis Bird was responsible for the relief in the west pediment depicting the Conversion of St Paul, as well as the seven large statues on the west front.[57][58] The floor was paved by William Dickinson in black and white marble in 1709-10[59] Jean Tijou was responsible for the decorative wrought ironwork of gates and balustrades.[42] The ball and cross on the dome were provided by an armorer, Andrew NIblett.[60]


St Paul's Cathedral is built in a restrained Baroque style which represents Wren's rationalisation of the traditions of English Medieval cathedrals with the inspiration of Palladio, the Classical style of Inigo Jones, the Baroque style of 17th-century Rome, and the buildings by Mansart and others that he had seen in France.[2] It is particularly in its plan that St Paul's reveals Medieval influences.[50] Like the great Medieval cathedrals of York and Winchester, St Paul's is comparatively long for its width, and has strongly projecting transepts. It has much emphasis on its facade, which has been designed to define rather than conceal the form of the building behind it. In plan, the towers jut beyond the width of the aisles as they do at Wells Cathedral. Wren's brother was the Bishop of Ely, and Wren was familiar with the unique octagonal lantern tower over the crossing of Ely Cathedral which spans the aisles as well as the central nave, unlike the central towers and domes of most churches. Wren adapted this characteristic in designing the dome of St Paul's.[50] In section St Paul's also maintains a medieval form, having the aisles much lower than the nave, and a defined clerestory.


From the exterior, the most visible and most notable feature is the dome, which rises 366 feet (108 m) to the cross at its summit,[61] and still dominates views of the City. St Paul's was until the late 20th century, the tallest building on the city skyline, designed to be seen surrounded by the delicate spires of Wren's other city churches. The dome is described by Banister Fletcher as "probably the finest in Europe", by Helen Gardner as "majestic", by Nikolaus Pevsner as "one of the most perfect in the world" and in a statement by John Summerson that Englishmen and "even some foreigners" consider it to be without equal.[62][63][64][65]


Wren drew inspiration from Michelangelo's dome of St Peter's Basilica, and that of Mansart's Church of the Val-de-Grâce which he had visited.[65] Unlike those of St Peter's and Val-de-Grâce, the dome of St Paul's rises in two clearly defined storeys of masonry, which, together with a lower unadorned footing, equal a height of about 95 feet. From the time of the Greek Cross Design it is clear that Wren favoured a continuous colonnade (peristyle) around the drum of the dome, rather than the arrangement of alternating windows and projecting columns that Michelangelo had used and which had also been employed by Mansart.[64] Summerson suggests that he was influence by Bramante's "Tempietto" in the courtyard of San Pietro in Montorio.[66] In the finished structure, Wren creates a diversity and appearance of strength by placing niches between the columns in every fourth opening.[66] The peristyle serves to buttress both the inner dome and the brick cone which rises internally to support the lantern.

Above the peristyle rises the second stage surrounded by a balustraded balcony called the "Stone Gallery". This attic stage is ornamented with alternating pilasters and rectangular windows which are set just below the cornice, creating a sense of lightness. Above this attic rises the dome, covered with lead, and ribbed in accordance with the spacing of the pilasters. It is pierced by eight light wells just below the lantern, but these are barely visible. They allow light to penetrate through openings in the brick cone, which illuminates the interior apex of this shell, partly visible from within the cathedral through the ocular opening of the lower dome.[50]

The lantern, like the visible masonry of the dome, rises in stages. The most unusual characteristic of this structure is that it is of square plan, rather than circular or octagonal. The tallest stage takes the form of a tempietto with four columned porticos facing the cardinal points. Its lowest level is surrounded by the "Golden Gallery" and its upper level supports a small dome from which rises a cross on a golden ball. The total weight of the lantern is about 850 tons.[62]

West front

For the Renaissance architect designing the west front of a large church or cathedral, the universal problem was how to use a facade to unite the high central nave with the lower aisles in a visually harmonious whole. Since Alberti's additions to Santa Maria Novella in Florence, this was usually achieved by the simple expedient of linking the sides to the centre with large brackets. This is the solution that Wren saw employed by Mansart at Val-de-Grâce. Another feature employed by Mansart was a boldly projecting Classical portico with paired columns. Wren faced the additional challenge of incorporating towers into the design, as had been planned at St Peter's Basilica. At St Peter's, Carlo Maderno had solved this problem by constructing a narthex and stretching a huge screen facade across it, differentiated at the centre by a pediment. The towers at St Peter's were not built above the parapet.

Wren's solution was to employ a Classical portico, as at Val-de-Grâce, but rising through two storeys, and supported on paired columns. The remarkable feature here is that the lower storey of this portico extends to the full width of the aisles, while the upper section defines the nave that lies behind it. The gaps between the upper stage of the portico and the towers on either side are bridged by a narrow section of wall with an arch-topped window.

The towers stand outside the width of the aisles, but screen two chapels located immediately behind them. The lower parts of the towers continue the theme of the outer walls, but are differentiated from them in order to create an appearance of strength. The windows of the lower storey are smaller than those of the side walls and are deeply recessed, a visual indication of the thickness of the wall. The paired pilasters at each corner project boldly.

Above the main cornice, which unites the towers with the portico and the outer walls, the details are boldly scaled, in order to read well from the street below and from a distance. The towers rise above the cornice from a square block plinth which is plain apart from large oculi, that on the south being filled by the clock, while that on the north is void. The towers are composed of two complementary elements, a central cylinder rising through the tiers in a series of stacked drums, and paired Corinthian columns at the corners, with buttresses above them, which serve to unify the drum shape with the square plinth on which it stands. The entablature above the columns breaks forward over them to express both elements, tying them together in a single horizontal band. The cap, like a bell-shaped miniature dome, supports a gilded finial, a pineapple supported on four scrolling angled brackets, the topmost expression of the consistent theme.

The transepts each have a semi-circular entrance portico. Wren was inspired in the design by studying engravings of Pietro da Cortona's Baroque facade of Santa Maria della Pace in Rome.[67] These projecting arcs echo the shape of the apse at the eastern end of the building.


The building is of two storeys of ashlar masonry, above a basement, and surrounded by a balustrade above the upper cornice. The balustrade was added, against Wren's wishes, in 1718.[67] The internal bays are marked externally by paired pilasters with Corinthian capitals at the lower level and Composite at the upper level. Where the building behind is of only one storey (at the aisles of both nave and choir) the upper storey of the exterior wall is sham.[62] It serves a dual purpose of supporting the buttresses of the vault, and providing a satisfying appearance when viewed rising above buildings of the height of the 17th century city. This appearance may still be seen from across the River Thames.

Between the pilasters on both levels are windows. Those of the lower storey have semi-circular heads and are surrounded by continuous mouldings of a Roman style, rising to decorative keystones. Beneath each window is a floral swag by Grinling Gibbons, constituting the finest stone carving on the building and some of the greatest architectural sculpture in England. A frieze with similar swags runs in a band below the cornice, tying the arches of the windows and the capitals. The upper windows are of a restrained Classical form, with pediments set on columns, but are blind and contain niches. Beneath these niches, and in the basement level, are small windows with segmental tops, the glazing of which catches the light and visually links them to the large windows of the aisles. The height from ground level to the top of the parapet is approximately 110 feet.


Internally, St Pauls has a nave and choir each of three bays. The entrance from the west portico is through a square domed narthex, flanked on either side by chapels: the Chapel of St Dunstan to the north and the Chapel of the Order of St Michael and St George to the south side.[50] The nave is 91 feet (28 m) in height and is separated from the aisles by an arcade of piers with attached Corinthian pilasters rising to an entablature. The bays, and therefore the vault compartments, are rectangular, but Wren has ingeniously roofed these spaces with saucer-shaped domes and surrounded the clerestorey windows with lunettes.[50] The vaults of the choir have been lavishly decorated with mosaics by Sir William Blake Richmond.[50] The dome and the apse of the choir are all approached through wide arches with coffered vaults which contrast with the smooth surface of the domes and punctuate the division between the main spaces. The transept extend to the north and south of the dome and are called (in this instance) the North Choir and the South Choir.

The choir holds the stalls for the clergy and the choir, and the organ. These wooden fittings, including the pulpit and Bishop's throne, were designed in Wren's office and built by joiners. The carvings are the work of Grinling Gibbons who Summerson describes as having "astonishing facility" and suggests that Gibbons aim was to reproduce popular Dutch flower painting in wood.[42] Jean Tijou, a French metalworker, provided various wrought iron and gilt grills, gates and balustrades of elaborate design, of which many pieces have now been combined into the gates near the sanctuary.[42]

The cathedral is some 574 feet (175 m) in length (including the portico of the Great West Door), of which 223 feet (68 m) is the nave and 167 feet (51 m) is the choir. The width of the nave is 121 feet (37 m) and across the transepts is 246 feet (75 m).[68] The cathedral is thus slightly shorter but somewhat wider than Old St Paul's.

Engraving by Thomas Molton (1792) of the space beneath the dome which reveals how Wren succeeded in giving an impression of eight equal arches.
The interior of the dome showing how Thornhill's painting continues an illusion of the real architectural features.


The main internal space of the cathedral is that under the central dome which extends the full width of the nave and aisles. The dome is supported on pendentives rising between eight arches spanning the nave, choir, transepts, and aisles. The eight piers that carry them are not evenly spaced. Wren has maintained an appearance of eight equal spans by inserting segmental arches carry galleries across the ends of the aisles, and has extended the mouldings of the upper arch to appear equal to the wider arches.[52]

Above the keystones of the arches, at 99 feet (30 m) above the floor and 112 feet (34 m) wide, runs a cornice which supports the Whispering Gallery so called because of its acoustic properties: a whisper or low murmur against its wall at any point is audible to a listener with an ear held to the wall at any other point around the gallery. It is reached by 259 steps from ground level.

The dome is raised on a tall drum surrounded by pilasters and pierced with windows in groups of three, separated by eight gilded niches containing statues, and repeating the pattern of the peristyle on the exterior. the dome rises above a gilded cornice at 173 feet (53 m) to a height of 214 feet (65 m). Its painted decoration by Sir James Thornhill shows eight scenes from the life of St Paul set in illusionistic architecture which continues the forms of the eight niches of the drum.[57] At the apex of the dome is an oculus inspired by that of the Pantheon in Rome. Through this hole can be seen the decorated inner surface of the cone which supports the lantern. This upper space is lit by the light wells in the outer dome and openings in the brick cone. Engravings of the Thornhill's paintings were published in 1720.[69]


The eastern apse extends the width of the choir and is the full height of the main arches across choir and nave. It is decorated with mosaics, in keeping with the choir vaults. The original reredos and high altar were destroyed by bombing in 1940. The present high altar and baldacchino are the work of by Godfrey Allen and Stephen Dykes Bower.[49] The apse was dedicated in 1958 as the American Memorial Chapel.[70] It was paid for entirely by donations from British people.[71] The Roll of Honour contains the names of more than 28,000 Americans who gave their lives while on their way to, or stationed in, the United Kingdom during the Second World War.[72] It is in front of the chapel's altar. The three windows of the apse date from 1960 and depict themes of service and sacrifice, while the insignia around the edges represent the American states and the US armed forces. The limewood panelling incorporates a rocket – a tribute to America's achievements in space.[73]

Artworks, tombs and memorials

St Paul's at the time of its completion, was adorned by sculpture in stone and wood, most notably that of Grinling Gibbons, by the paintings in the dome by Thornhill, and by Jean Tijou's elaborate metalwork. It has been further enhanced by Sir William Richmond's mosaics and the fittings by Dykes Bower and Godfrey Allen.[49] Other artworks in the cathedral include, in the south aisle, William Holman Hunt's copy of his painting The Light of the World, the original of which hangs in Keble College, Oxford. In the north choir aisle is a limestone sculpture of the Madonna and Child by Henry Moore, carved in 1943.[49]

The largest monument in the cathedral is that to the Duke of Wellington by Alfred Stevens. It stands on the north side of the nave and has on top a statue of Wellington astride his horse "Copenhagen". Although the equestrian figure was planned at the outset, objections to the notion of having a horse in the church prevented its installation until 1912. The horse and rider are by John Tweed. The Duke is buried in the crypt.[49]

One of the most remarkable memorials is that of the previous dean and poet, John Donne. Before his death, Donne posed for his own memorial statue and was depicted by the sculptor Nicholas Stone as wrapped in a burial shroud, and standing on a funeral urn. The sculpture, carved around 1630, is the only one to have survived the conflagration of 1666 intact.[49]

At the eastern end of the crypt is the Chapel of the Order of the British Empire, instigated in 1917, and designed by Lord Mottistone.[49] The treasury is also in the crypt but the cathedral has very few treasures as many have been lost, and in 1810 a major robbery took almost all of the remaining precious artefacts.

The crypt also contains over 200 memorials and numerous burials. Christopher Wren was the first person to be interred, in 1723. On the wall above his tomb in the crypt is written, "Lector, si monumentum requiris, circumspice" (Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you).

Also in the crypt, directly under the dome, is the tomb of Horatio, Lord Nelson. The marble sarcophagus which holds his remains was made for Cardinal Wolsey but was disused as the cardinal fell from favour.[49] There are many other memorials commemorating the British military, including several lists of servicemen who died in action, the most recent being the Gulf War. Also remembered are Florence Nightingale, William Turner, Hubert Parry, Samuel Johnson, T. E. Lawrence and Sir Alexander Fleming as well as clergy and residents of the local parish. There are lists of the Bishops and cathedral Deans for the last thousand years.

The cathedral has been the site of many famous funerals, including those of Horatio Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, Sir Winston Churchill and George Mallory. In 2013, Lady Margaret Thatcher was given a ceremonial funeral with full military honours. [74]

Clock and bells

The south-west tower contains a clock, of which the present mechanism was built in 1893 by Smith of Derby incorporating a design of escapement by Edmund Denison Beckett similar to that used by Edward Dent on the 'Big Ben' mechanism in 1895. The clock mechanism is 5.8 metres long and is the most recent of the clocks introduced to St Paul's Cathedral over the centuries. Since 1969 the clock has been electrically wound with equipment designed and installed by Smith of Derby, relieving the clock custodian from the work of cranking up the heavy drive weights.

The south-west tower also contains four bells of which Great Paul, cast in 1881 by Taylor's bell foundry of Loughborough, Leicestershire, at 16½ tons is the largest bell in the British Isles.[75] This bell has traditionally sounded at 1 o'clock each day. The clock bells included Great Tom which was moved from St Stephen's Chapel at the Palace of Westminster and has been recast several times, the last time by Richard Phelps. It chimes the hour and is traditionally tolled on occasions of a death in the royal family, the Bishop of London, or the Lord Mayor of London, although an exception was made at the death of the US president James Garfield.[76] It was last tolled for the death of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, in 2002.[75] In 1717, Richard Phelps cast two more bells that were added as "quarter jacks" that ring on the quarter-hour. Still in use today, the first weighs 13 long hundredweights (1,500 lb; 660 kg), is 41 inches (1,000 mm) in diameter and is tuned to A flat; the second weighs 35 long hundredweights (3,900 lb; 1,800 kg) and is 58 inches (1,500 mm) in diameter and is tuned to E flat.

The north-west tower contains a peal of 12 bells by Taylor of Loughborough hung for change ringing and the original service or "Communion Bell" dating from 1700 and known as "the Banger" which is rung before 8.00 am services.[75]

Details of the bells
Bell Weight Nominal Note Diameter Cast Founder
1 8-1-4 1461.0 F 30.88" 1878 John Taylor & Co
2 9-0-20 1270.0 E♭ 32.50" 1878 John Taylor & Co
3 9-3-12 1199.0 D 34.00" 1878 John Taylor & Co
4 11-2-22 1063.0 C 36.38" 1878 John Taylor & Co
5 13-1-0 954.0 B♭ 38.63" 1878 John Taylor & Co
6 13-2-14 884.0 A 39.63" 1878 John Taylor & Co
7 16-1-18 784.0 G 43.75" 1878 John Taylor & Co
8 21-3-18 705.0 F 47.63" 1878 John Taylor & Co
9 27-1-22 636.0 E♭ 52.50" 1878 John Taylor & Co
10 29-3-21 592.0 D 55.25" 1878 John Taylor & Co
11 43-2-0 525.0 C 61.25" 1878 John Taylor & Co
12 61-2-12 468.0 B♭ 69.00" 1878 John Taylor & Co
Clock 12-2-9 A♭ 1707 Richard Phelps
Clock 24-2-26 E♭ 1707 Richard Phelps
Clock 102-1-22 A♭ 82.88" 1716 Richard Phelps
Bourdon 334-2-19 E♭ 114.75" 1881 John Taylor & Co
Communion 18-2-26 E♭ 49.50" 1700 Philip Wightman

Education, tourism and the arts

Interpretation Project

The Interpretation Project is a long term project concerned with bringing St Paul’s to life for all its visitors. In 2010, the Dean and Chapter of St Paul's opened St Paul's Oculus, a 270° film experience that brings 1400 years of history to life.[77] Located in the former Treasury in the crypt, the film takes visitors on a journey through the history and daily life of St Paul's Cathedral. Oculus was funded by American Express Company in partnership with the World Monuments Fund, J. P . Morgan, the Garfield Weston Trust for St Paul’s Cathedral, the City of London Endowment Trust and AIG.

In 2010, new touchscreen multimedia guides were also launched. These guides are included in the price of admission. Visitors can discover the cathedral’s history, architecture and daily life of a busy working church with these new multimedia guides. They are available in 12 different languages: English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, Russian, Mandarin, Japanese, Korean and British Sign Language (BSL). The guides have fly-through videos of the dome galleries and zoomable close-ups of the ceiling mosaics, painting and photography. Interviews and commentary from experts include the Dean of St Paul’s, conservation team and the Director of Music. Archive film footage includes major services and events from the cathedral's history.

Charges for sightseers

There is a £16.00 charge for admission to sightseers (£14.50 when purchased online).[78] Those attending services do so at no cost. People seeking a place to be quiet and pray are admitted to St Dunstan's Chapel free of charge. Admission on Sundays for all services is free and there is no sightseeing. The cathedral explains that St Paul's receives little regular or significant funding from the Crown, Church or the State and claims to rely on the income generated by tourism to allow the building to continue to function as a centre for Christian worship, as well as to cover general maintenance and repair work.[79]

St Paul's Cathedral Arts Project

The St Paul’s Cathedral Arts Project is an ongoing programme which seeks to explore the encounter between art and faith. Projects have included installations by Antony Gormley, Rebecca Horn, Yoko Ono and Martin Firrell.

Internationally acclaimed artist Bill Viola has been commissioned to create two altarpieces for permanent display in St Paul's Cathedral. The project commenced production in mid-2009 with completion in early 2012. Following the extensive programme of cleaning and repair of the interior of St Paul's, completed in 2005, Bill Viola has been commissioned to create two altarpieces on the themes of Mary and Martyrs. These two multi-screen video installations will be permanently located at the end of the Quire aisles, flanking the High Altar of the Cathedral and the American Memorial Chapel where US Service men and women who gave their lives in the Second World War are commemorated. Each work will employ an arrangement of multiple plasma screen panels configured in a manner similar to historic altarpieces. The screens will be mounted on hinged panels, allowing them to be closed.

In Summer 2010, St Paul's chose two new works by the British artist Mark Alexander to be hung either side of the nave. Both entitled Red Mannheim, Alexander's large red silkscreens are inspired by the Mannheim Cathedral altarpiece (1739–41), which was damaged by bombing in the Second World War. The original sculpture depicts Christ on the cross, surrounded by a familiar retinue of mourners. Rendered in splendid giltwood, with Christ's wracked body sculpted in relief, and the flourishes of flora and incandescent rays from heaven, this masterpiece of the German Rococo is an object of ravishing beauty and intense piety.

In March 2010, Flare II, a sculpture by Antony Gormley, was installed in the dramatic setting of the Geometric Staircase.

In 2007, Dean and Chapter commissioned public artist Martin Firrell to create a major public artwork to mark the 300th anniversary of the topping-out of Wren's building. The Question Mark Inside consisted of digital text projections to the cathedral dome, West Front and inside onto the Whispering Gallery. The text was based on blog contributions by the general public as well as interviews conducted by the artist and the artist's own views. The project presented a stream of possible answers to the question: 'what makes life meaningful and purposeful, and what does St Paul's mean in that contemporary context?' The Question Mark Inside opened on 8 November 2008 and ran for eight nights.

Depictions of St Paul's

St Paul's Cathedral has been depicted many times in paintings, prints and drawings. Among the well-known artists to have depicted it are Canaletto, Turner, Daubigny, Pissarro, Signac, Derain, Lloyd Rees,

Photography and film

St Paul's Cathedral has been the subject of many photographs, most notably the iconic image of the dome surrounded by smoke during the Blitz.(see above) It has also been used in films and TV programmes, either as the focus of the film, as in the episode of Climbing Great Buildings; as a feature of the film, as in Mary Poppins; or as an incidental location such as the staircase of the south-west tower which has appeared in several movies including Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

Films in which St Paul's has appeared include:

  • Climbing Great Buildings (2010)
  • Industrial Revelations: Best of British Engineering – Buildings, with Rory McGrath series 5, episode 1, 2008, focuses on St Paul's Cathedral.
  • St Paul's Cathedral has appeared numerous times in Doctor Who, most notably the 1968 episode, "The Invasion". In one scene, a group of Cybermen are shown climbing out of some manholes in Central London, before descending a stairway in front of the Cathedral.
  • Saint Paul's is seen briefly in the Goodies episode "Kitten Kong". During his rampage through London, Twinkle does damage to various London landmarks, including Saint Paul's Cathedral, which has its dome knocked off when he bursts out of the centre of the famous church.
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban shows the Geometric Staircase in the South West Bell Tower.
  • The Madness of King George shows the Geometric Staircase in the South West Bell Tower.
  • Mary Poppins shows the front and outside of the Cathedral, though it shows the space from the missing clock, when that was caused by bombing during World War II, 30 years after the film was set.
  • Sherlock Holmes (2009) shows the North side of the West Steps, and the Geometric Staircase in the South West Bell Tower.
  • Lawrence of Arabia (1962) shows the exterior of the building and T E Lawrence's bust.
  • Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) depicts St Paul's in 23rd-century London along with other notable modern-day London buildings.[80]

See also

Anglicanism portal


  • Harris, Brian L., Harris's Guide to Churches and Cathedrals, Ebury Press (1988) ISBN 0091912512
  • Summerson, John, Architecture of Britain 1530-1830, The Pelican History of Art, Penguin Books, (1983) ISBN 0140560 033
Further reading
  • St Pauls and the City by Frank Atkinson (With numerous photographic plates, both in colour, and black and white). Michael Joseph – Park Lane Press (London) in 1985 with an ISBN 0-7181-2629-7
  • The Chapel of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by Frederic Hood with a foreword by Prince Phillip. (Mainly colour plates on glossy paper relating to St Paul's Cathedral – 65 pages with descriptive text) Detail from a copy of the book published by OUP (Oxford University Press) at Oxford in 1967 with no ISBN
  • Danger UXB by James Owen has a chapter on St Paul's in wartime and the unexploded bomb which closed it. Published by Little, Brown, 2010 ISBN 978-1-4087-0255-0

External links

  • St Paul's Cathedral official website
  • A Popular Description of St. Paul's Cathedral By Maria Hackett, published 1828, 87 pages.
  • Biographical Illustrations of St. Paul's Cathedral By George Lewis Smyth, published 1843, 284 pages.
  • St Paul's Cathedral by Canaletto (painting)
  • Wren's various designs
  • St Paul's Cathedral Photo Gallery — 125 photos
  • Project Gutenberg
  • S.E. Kelly, editor, 2004. Charters of St Paul's, London in series Anglo-Saxon Charters (Oxford University Press) [4]
  • The 'Registrum Statutorum..' of St Paul's – collected charters and other documents from the earliest years until the nineteenth century. Published by the cathedral in 1873, Latin and English.
  • BBC News account of the bombing
  • Bells of St Paul's
  • A history of the choristers of St Paul's Cathedral
  • Ship of Fools website
  • Central London live webcam showing St Paul's, Westminster and Big Ben
  • The Chapel of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire – OBE Chapel
  • St Paul's lithographs c. 1647–1817
  • The Jubilee Cope commissioned for the Bishop of London by St Paul’s Cathedral in honour of the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II [6].

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