Heritage & Culture

 

 

all photos: Sampson Lloyd/St. Paul's Cathedral

The 300th Anniversary Restoration of Christopher Wren's Masterpiece

ST. PAULS CATHEDRAL

For the last four years much of St. Paul's was hidden under scaffolding and tarpaulin.  The main ceremonial entrance of the Cathedral and the interior of its world famous dome were under wraps while much needed restoration work took place, but now the 2 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.

The West Front, once blackened and damaged, now rises majestically at the top of Ludgate Hill and details previously hidden stand out crisp and proud.  The interior has been transformed by state of the art restoration techniques and the light that now floods the space highlights the luminescent Portland stone and brings mosaics, carvings and sculpture to life.

The restoration of the West Front and the interior are part of a historic 40 million programme of cleaning and repair which will mark the 300th Anniversary of the Cathedral in 2008.  This is the first time in its long history that the building has been comprehensively restored inside and out.

Restoration of the West Front cost 5 million and was paid for by the late Sir Paul Getty.  The work mainly comprised of stone cleaning and repair, but also included the re-carving of eroded stones, re-gilding, repairs to the clock face and bells and the relaying of the West steps.  Restoration of the interior cost 10.8 million and was funded by a single generous donation.  The stone has been cleaned, architectural carvings have been repaired, and marble sculptures and mosaics have been restored.  In the dome, exquisite 18th century paintings by Sir James Thornhill showing scenes from the life of St. Paul have been returned to their original beauty.

As well as noting the startling changes in the interior of the Cathedral and admiring the recently installed contemporary paintings by Russian artist Sergei Chepik and arresting wrought iron and bronze memorial gates for Sir Winston Churchill, visitors can compare the restored West Front and East End of the Cathedral with the still to be completed South and North Facades - a fascinating way to appreciate the hard work and expertise that have gone into removing centuries of soot and grime.

But of course, the pinnacle of any trip to St. Paul's has to be the winding journey up the spiral staircase to the Whispering Gallery to sample its unique audio effects before traveling up and out to the Stone and Golden Galleries, which afford a panoramic view of London that is second to none.

Whether you've visited St. Paul's in the past or will be making your first trip, we can guarantee you won't be disappointed.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

A Cathedral dedicated to St. Paul has overlooked the City of London since 604AD, a constant reminder to this great commercial center of the importance of the spiritual side of life.

The current Cathedral, the 4th to occupy this site, was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and built between 1675 and 1710 after its predecessor was destroyed in the Great Fire of London.  Its architectural and artistic importance reflect the determination of the 5 monarchs who oversaw its building that London's leading church should be as beautiful and imposing as their private palaces.

As the Cathedral of the capital city, St. Paul's is the spiritual focus for the Nation.  This is where people and events of overwhelming importance to the country have been celebrated, mourned and commemorated since the first Service took place in 1697.  Since then important services have included the funerals of Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington and Sir Winston Churchill;  Jubilee celebrations for Queen Victoria, King George V;  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 the Thanksgiving for the Golden Jubilee 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, 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 bob-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.

Throughout, St. Paul's has remained a busy, working church where millions have come to worship and find peace.  It is a heritage site of international importance which attracts thousands of people each year, a symbol of the City and Nation it serves and above all, a lasting monument to the glory of God.

FACTS AND FIGURES

  • St. Paul's is the only Cathedral to have been designed, built and completed by a single architect.  It took 33 years to build, from 1675 to 1708.

  • The present St. Paul's is the 4th to occupy the site on Ludgate Hill;  the first Cathedral dedicated to St. Paul was built in 604 AD.

  • St. Paul's actually has 3 domes;  an inner dome, a brick cone that supports the lantern, and the outer dome "skin."  The inner dome is 225 feet high with a diameter of 102 feet.  The whole structure weighs 64,000 tons.

  • The golden ball on the top of the dome is 6 feet in diameter, with room inside for ten people.  The golden cross on top of the dome is 355.5 feet from the ground.

  • The crypt of St. Paul's is the largest in Western Europe, and unusually for a Cathedral, is the exact 'footprint" of the Cathedral floor.

  • St. Paul's was the venue for some of the nation's grandest funerals, including Admiral Lord Nelson (1806),  Arthur, Duke of Wellington (1852) and Sir Winston Churchill (1965).

  • The Crypt is the final resting place for many famous names including Nelson, Wellington, Joseph Turner, William Blake and Sir Alexander Fleming.

  • Sir Christopher Wren is also buried here, in a very plain grave.  On the wall at the head of his tomb is a plain inscription, in Latin, arranged y his son.  It translates as "If you seek his monument, look around you."  Wren himself had not wanted a memorial at all.

  • John Donne, a Dean of St. Paul's, was buried in the crypt in 1631.  His is the only monument from "old St. Paul's" to survive the Great Fire of London.

  •  In 1964, human rights campaigner Martin Luther King preached at St. Paul's on his way to Oslo to collect the Nobel Prize.

  • In 1981, Charles, Prince of Wales married Lady Diana Spencer in a ceremony that was watched on television by 750 mill people around the world.  The couple's choice of St. Paul's rather than the monarch's own Westminster Abbey was a symbol of their mission to become the people's prince and princess.

NELSON AND ST. PAUL'S

St. Paul's is the resting place for Britain's heroes;  both Nelson and Wellington reside here.  The Cathedral is adorned with many monuments to those who served their country including Sir Winston Churchill and Nelson's friend and colleague, Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood, whilst the remains of other honored men lie interred beneath the Crypt floor.  Often, memorials were erected by the public, choosing St. Paul's - the nation's Cathedral - as fitting place of remembrance for their leaders.

Horatio Nelson was a superb fighting admiral and Britain's first great national hero.  He joined the Royal Naval aged 12 and became a captain by 21.  He first came to public notice by his heroic deeds at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent, and later secured his fame with an overwhelming victory over the French at the Battle of the Nile.  His last battle was fought on a square mile of water a few miles off Cape Trafalgar, near Cadiz.  His fleet of 27 ships was outnumbered by a combined French and Spanish fleet of 33 ships, but Nelson's bold tactics delivered a crushing victory that gave Britain command of the oceans for more than 100 years.

After his death at Trafalgar, the enormous public outpouring of grief ensured that Nelson's body was brought back to England for a state funeral.  The 4-hour service took place in front of 7,000 guests in St. Paul's on January 9, 1806.  The sarcophagus was lowered into the crypt and positioned immediately underneath the center of the dome, where it remains to this day.

The tomb stands in splendid isolation, marking Nelson's passing from mortal man to immortal hero.  Originally made for Cardinal Wolseley by Benedetto da Rovezzano in the 1520's, the black marble sarcophagus beneath which Nelson rests is crowned by a metal coronet in gilt, re, black and white paint, resting on a purpled, tasseled cushion.

The Chamber and Tomb underwent essential work in preparation for celebrations surrounding the 200th anniversary of Nelson's victory at the Battle of Trafalgar on October 21st, 2005.  The bicentary year of Nelson's death gave visitors to St. Paul's a chance to learn of his role in England's history;  and how this extraordinary man rose through the ranks to perform extraordinary acts, and to assume this place of honor within one of the world's greatest buildings.

THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AND ST. PAUL'S

The bond between St. Paul's Cathedral and the United States of America is long established.  Formed during World War II, when 28,000 Americans stationed in the UK lost their lives fighting for freedom and democracy, it was marked with an enduring tribute in 1948 with the creation of the American Memorial Chapel.  In recognition of their debt to the American nation, the building of the Chapel was funded by the people of Britain themselves.

The relationship between St. Paul's and the people of the United States was once again brought into focus following the terrorist atrocities of September 11th, 2001.  On September 14th, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the Prime Minister and the US Ambassador led a congregation of 2,400 in a memorial service that was broadcast across the world.  Over 6,000 people lined the streets outside the Cathedral.  A year later, the Cathedral and the same streets were again crowded with mourners gathered to commemorate the 3, 100 lives lost.

Most recently the Cathedral held a Service of Prayer and Remembrance for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, which was attended by the US Ambassador, and a several hundred strong congregation of American and UK citizens.

The Majority of overseas visitors to St. Paul's come from the US.  Each day, American citizens come to the Cathedral to worship, to experience the majesty of Wren's masterpiece and to learn about the building's history and the meeting of our two nations within it.  Since it's dedication in 1958, the American Memorial Chapel has been the focal point for American visitors to St. Paul's.  For the past 45 years, the Chapel has provided countless visitors with a place to pray and reflect, an adoptive place of worship to the hundreds of Americans who pass through it every day..

The Anglo-American relationship is greatly valued by the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul's who are keen to strengthen these links both in the UK and the US.  In the Cathedral, an annual service of Thanksgiving sung by North American choirs attracts some 2,400 Americans living in the UK.  Across the Atlantic, St. Paul's maintains a regular presence in the USA when the choir performs at a range of venues, furthering mutual understanding and appreciation of our common musical and religious heritage.

We are grateful to St. Paul's Cathedral in London for keeping us up to date on their activities.