St Paul’s Cathedral in London

Saturday, 20 June 2015 - 01:00 pm (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: General, London, Museums, Exhibitions
Reading Time:  12 minutes

© flickr.com - Mark Fosh/cc-by-2.0

© flickr.com – Mark Fosh/cc-by-2.0

St Paul’s Cathedral, London, is an Anglican cathedral, the seat of the Bishop of London and the 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. 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 programme which took place in the city after the Great Fire of London. 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. 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. 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. Important services held at St Paul’s have included 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.

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. It is particularly in its plan that St Paul’s reveals Medieval influences. 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. In section St Paul’s also maintains a medieval form, having the aisles much lower than the nave, and a defined clerestory.

© David Iliff/cc-by-sa-3.0 © Robert Bauer/cc-by-sa-3.0 from West © David Iliff/cc-by-sa-3.0 © Adrian Pingstone London 360° from St Paul's Cathedral © David Iliff © flickr.com - Mark Fosh/cc-by-2.0
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London 360° from St Paul's Cathedral © David Iliff
From the exterior, the most visible and most notable feature is the dome, which rises 365 feet (111 m) to the cross at its summit, and still dominates views of the City. The height of 365 feet was deliberate as Wren had a considerable interest in astronomy. 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. 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. 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. Summerson suggests that he was influence by Bramante’s “Tempietto” in the courtyard of San Pietro in Montorio. In the finished structure, Wren creates a diversity and appearance of strength by placing niches between the columns in every fourth opening. The peristyle serves to buttress both the inner dome and the brick cone which rises internally to support the lantern. 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.

Internally, St Paul’s 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. 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. The vaults of the choir have been lavishly decorated with mosaics by Sir William Blake Richmond. 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 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 to carry galleries across the ends of the aisles, and has extended the mouldings of the upper arch to appear equal to the wider arches. 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 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. The apse was dedicated in 1958 as the American Memorial Chapel. It was paid for entirely by donations from British people. 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. 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. 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. 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. The crypt 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. 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.

Read more on St Paul’s Cathedral and Wikipedia St Paul’s Cathedral (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by weather.com - Global Passport Power Rank - Travel Risk Map - Democracy Index - GDP according to IMF, UN, and World Bank - Global Competitiveness Report - Corruption Perceptions Index - Press Freedom Index - World Justice Project - Rule of Law Index - UN Human Development Index - Global Peace Index - Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.




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