St Paul's Cathedral: Wren's masterpiece and London's icon

St Paul's Cathedral is the centre of Protestant worship for the diocese of London. There has been a building of religious significance on the site since Roman times when it housed a temple.


The first cathedral was thought to have popped up around 604, and today's is the third of the name. In between there was an incredible Norman cathedral which took about 200 years to build. This was destroyed in the Great Fire of London. In comparison Christopher Wren's building, which still stands today, only took thirty years. During those thirty years, Wren lied his heart out to the King and Government, claiming he was designing a beautifully appropriate spire after they rejected his forward-thinking Baroque dome.


It was only when the scaffolding came down and the Cathedral crowned Ludgate Hill in all her glory that the authorities realised they'd been utterly duped, and Wren had been building exactly what he wanted all the way along.


Christopher Wren is buried inside the Cathedral, along with Admiral Nelson and the Duke of Wellington, in what is thought to be the longest crypt in Europe. Another architectural quirk, the Whispering Gallery, has unique acoustics. If you stand on one side of the Cathedral and whisper, a friend on the other side should be able to hear what you say, as the curve of the dome carries the sound perfectly!


In the Middle Ages, until the reign of Elizabeth I, the Cathedral appointed a Boy Bishop every December. The lucky chorister got to run the entire Cathedral between the 6th and 28th December. The Boy Bishop fulfilled all the adult Bishop's usual duties for the month, except taking Mass. There are occasional revivals of the custom, but not generally at St. Paul's.


Astonishingly for a landmark of its size and importance, St Paul's Cathedral survived the Blitz largely unscathed, even though a bomb landed deep in its foundations in 1940. If it had exploded, the Cathedral would have gone sky high, but luckily it failed to detonate. Consequently, the Cathedral became a powerful icon of wartime resistance.


Today it is a powerful icon of London, and one of the city's most instantly recognisable buildings.


For more information on St Paul's troubled creation, see our blog The fight for St Paul's.