Monday, May 26, 2014

Building of the Day: St. Paul’s Cathedral, London

"Old St. Paul's"
St Paul's Cathedral
Five churches have stood on the site of St. Paul’s Cathedral since AD 604. The first three were destroyed by fires—a common theme in the history of London. The fourth cathedral known today as Old St. Paul’s lasted from 1087 until 1666. That’s a very good run for any building. Of course, Old St. Paul’s had its fair share of drama. The grand Episcopal cathedral took 200 years to complete, and, that’s not counting delays in construction due to damage sustained by another fire in 1136. In 1561, the spire of Old St. Paul’s (one of the tallest in the world at the time) was struck by lightning which, frankly didn’t do wonders for the spire nor for the church. The damaged spire was removed and never replaced. By 1630, Old St. Paul’s had begun to fall apart. Famed architect Inigo Jones added a new façade to the existing building in his celebrated Classical Style. But, still, the interior of the edifice was crumbling.
"The Great Model"St. Paul's Cathedral
In the 1650’s, officials had decided that St. Paul’s needed a complete renovation. Much debate ensued as to whether the cathedral should be salvaged or pulled down and started anew. The Great Fire 0f London of 1666 promptly answered that question for them. The conflagration which had destroyed huge portions of Central London managed to gut Old St. Paul’s.

Architect Sir Christopher Wren had already been hired to oversee the renovation of the Cathedral and continued in that capacity after the Great Fire. Once the decision had been made to pull down the gutted cathedral, Wren began presenting plans for a new St. Paul’s. His first three ideas were rejected as being too modern, un-British, and not in keeping with other Anglican churches. The third design had been Wren’s favorite. To demonstrate the proposed final product, Wren built a large model of the plan which he called, “The Great Model.” The thirteen foot tall model from 1673 is still on display in the Cathedral and gives us a sense of what Wren had really wanted to do with the building.

Wren's Final DesignSt. Paul's Cathedral
  After the rejection of the Great Model, Wren decided not to show anyone his designs anymore, and presumably set about building the cathedral. In point of fact, he had quietly shown a fourth design to the proper authorities who had given him permission to begin. This design—known as The Warrant Design—was the basis for the building we see today. Meanwhile, Wren had gotten special permission from the king to make any ornamental changes he wished to the building. And, so, as the Cathedral was constructed, Wren quietly introduced a fifth design with a vastly different ornamental scheme.

The final design, as built, was based in large part on St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The dome of St. Paul’s—the tallest structure in London until the 1960’s—stands at 365 feet and is actually a “triple dome” meaning that the internal structure of what appears to be one piece is actually three complicated domes combined within themselves to support the massive lantern.

The Interior of the DomeSt. Paul's Cathedral
The final stone was placed in the lantern of the “new” St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1708, and in 1711, on Christmas Day, Parliament declared the cathedral complete. In reality, it wasn’t complete, and construction continued for several more years afterwards.

During the Blitz
The cathedral has stood since then, basically unaltered and in very good condition. It has survived considerable mayhem of its own having been struck with bombs in 1940 and 1941 during the “Blitz” of World War II. In each instance, the bombs that hit the cathedral were removed before they could detonate.

Today, St. Paul’s remains a working Episcopal Cathedral, a center for the arts, and serves as the burial place of many an important figure. Open to the public, St. Paul’s is doubtlessly one of the world’s most beautiful buildings, and one that everyone should see at least once.

The NaveSt. Paul's Cathedral

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