On this Day:
In 1697, St Paul’s Cathedral, in London, England, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, was consecrated for use (previous building destroyed in the Great Fire of London).
St Paul’s Cathedral is an Anglican cathedral in London. As the seat of the Bishop of London, the cathedral serves as the mother church of the Diocese of London. It sits on Ludgate Hill at the highest point of the City of London and is a Grade I listed building. Its dedication to Paul the Apostle dates back to the original church on this site, founded in AD 604. The present structure, dating from the late 17th century, was designed in the English Baroque style by Sir Christopher Wren. Its construction, completed in Wren’s lifetime, was part of a major rebuilding programme in the City after the Great Fire of London. The earlier Gothic cathedral (Old St Paul’s Cathedral), largely destroyed in the Great Fire, was a central focus for medieval and early modern London, including Paul’s walk and St Paul’s Churchyard being the site of St Paul’s Cross.
The cathedral is one of the most famous and most recognizable sights of London. Its dome, framed by the spires of Wren’s City churches, has dominated the skyline for over 300 years. At 365 feet (111 m) high, it was the tallest building in London from 1710 to 1963. The dome remains among the highest in the world. St Paul’s is the second-largest church building in area in the United Kingdom after Liverpool Cathedral.
Services held at St Paul’s have included the funerals of Admiral Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, 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 Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer; the launch of the Festival of Britain; and the thanksgiving services for the Silver, Golden and Diamond Jubilees and the 80th and 90th birthdays of Queen Elizabeth II. St Paul’s Cathedral is the central subject of much promotional material, as well as of images of the dome surrounded by the smoke and fire of the Blitz. The cathedral is a working church with hourly prayer and daily services. The tourist entry fee at the door is £20 for adults (August 2020, cheaper online), but no charge is made to worshippers attending advertised services.
In designing St Paul’s, Christopher Wren had to meet many challenges. He had to create a fitting cathedral to replace Old St Paul’s, as a place of worship and as a landmark within the City of London. He had to satisfy the requirements of the church and the tastes of a royal patron, as well as respecting the essentially medieval tradition of English church building which 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.
Wren’s design developed through five general stages. The first survives only as a single drawing and part of a model. 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”. Wren’s second design was a Greek cross, which was thought by the clerics not to fulfil the requirements of Anglican liturgy.
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. 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 clergy decried the design as too dissimilar to 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. The Great Model was Wren’s favourite design; he thought it a reflection of Renaissance beauty. After the Great Model, Wren resolved not to make further models and not to expose his drawings publicly, which he found did nothing but “lose time, and subject [his] business many times, to incompetent judges”. The Great Model survives and is housed within the cathedral itself.
Wren’s fourth design is known as the Warrant design because it received a Royal warrant for the rebuilding. In this design 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 1+1⁄2 storeys and has classical porticos at the west and transept ends, influenced by Inigo Jones’s addition to Old St Paul’s. 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 influence in the design of the spire may have been drawn from the oriental pagoda. Not used at St Paul’s, the concept was applied in the spire of St Bride’s, Fleet Street. 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.
The final design as built differs substantially from the official Warrant design. 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.
The date of the laying of the first stone of the cathedral is disputed. One contemporary account says it was 21 June 1675, another 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 (per Wikipedia).
First, a Story:
In an announcement to coincide with International Women’s Day, at St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Church of England announced a drive to increase the number of female vicars…
Apparently they want to decrease the gender pray gap…
Second, a Song:
Thought for the Day:
“When the Great Fire of London destroyed most of the medieval city in 1666, Christopher Wren was invited to design a new one. Within days, he had drawn up an elegant grid of broad boulevards leading to majestic squares, but it came to nothing – the existing landowners wanted things as they had been.” – Norman Foster
Have a great day!
Dave & Colleen
© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky
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