Description of Saint Paul's Cathedral
St Paul's Cathedral building in London EC4.
The current cathedral – the fourth to occupy this site – was designed by the court architect Sir Christopher Wren and built between 1675 and 1711 after its predecessor was destroyed in the Great Fire of London.
Its architectural and artistic importance reflect 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.
Since the first service was held here in 1697, Wren's masterpiece has been where people and events of overwhelming importance to the country have been celebrated, mourned and commemorated. Important services have included the funerals of Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington and Sir Winston Churchill; Jubilee celebrations for Queen Victoria; peace services marking the end of the First and Second World Wars; the launch of the Festival of Britain; the Service of Remembrance and Commemoration for the 11th September 2001: the 80th and 100th birthdays of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother; the wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales, to Lady Diana Spencer and, most recently, the thanksgiving services for both the Golden Jubilee and 80th Birthday of Her Majesty the Queen.
Over the centuries, St Paul’s has changed to reflect shifting tastes and attitudes. Decoration has been added and removed, services have been updated, and different areas have been put to new uses. Today, the history of the nation is written in the carved stone of its pillars and arches and is celebrated in its works of art and monuments.
In the crypt are effigies and fragments of stone that pre-date the Cathedral, relics of a medieval world. From Wren’s original vision, Jean Tijou’s beautiful wrought iron gates of 1700 still separate the quire from the ambulatory; children still test the acoustics in the Whispering Gallery; and the 1695 organ which Mendelssohn once played is still in use.
The magnificent mosaics are the result of Queen Victoria’s mid-19th century complaint that the interior was "most dreary, dingy and undevotional.” The American Memorial Chapel stands behind the High Altar in an area that was bomb-damaged during the Second World War – a gesture of gratitude to the American dead of the Second World War from the people of Britain. An altar has now been installed on a dais in the heart of the Cathedral, bringing services closer to those who attend them.
St Paul’s is currently undergoing an historic £40 million programme of cleaning and repair to mark the 300th Anniversary of the Cathedral in 2010. This is the first time in its long history that the building has been comprehensively restored inside and out. Once the programme of cleaning and repair is finished the two million visitors and worshippers who come to St Paul’s each year can witness Wren’s original vision and see his Cathedral as fresh as the day it was completed.