St Paul's Cathedral, seat of the Bishop of London and "parish church of the British Commonwealth", is the largest and most famous of the City's churches. The place where the present-day cathedral stands was the site of a Roman temple of Diana and in the seventh century of a church. In its day one of the richest churches of the world, was Old St Paul's, a great Gothic church with a spire 170m/500ft high which was badly damaged by fire in 1561, partly rebuilt by Inigo Jones in 1627-42 and finally destroyed in the Great Fire (1666). The present cathedral, begun in 1675 and completed in 1711, was designed by Sir Christopher Wren.
Ludgate Hill, London EC4M 8AD, England
Entrance fee in GBP:
Family £23.50, Adult £10.00, Senior £9.00, Students £8.50, Child 16 & under £3.50
Useful tips: Tours are conducted Mon-Sat at 11:00, 11:30am, 1:30, 2:00 p.m. for a cost of 10.00 per person which includes admission to the cathedral. Last admission 4 pm.
The crypt and galleries are open 9:30am - 4:00 p.m., with an additional 3.50 charge for the galleries.
There is an admission cost to the crypt. Disabled access at south side of Cathedral.
Group discount rate, combined tickets and family tickets available.
Disability Access: Partial facilities for persons with disabilities.
Guides: Guided tour included with admission. Taped tours for rent.
Transit: Underground: St Paul's, Mansion House; Bus: 4, 8, 11, 15, 17, 22B, 23, 25, 26, 56, 76, 172, 501, 521
The plan was approved only after long wrangling with the church commissioners, who turned down Wren's first two designs. The result was a compromise between Wren's original idea of a dome and the commissioners' preference for a plan in the form of a Latin cross. As finally built, however, St Paul's is Wren's masterpiece - a harmoniously proportioned Renaissance church 170m/515ft long and 75m/227ft wide across the transepts, with two Baroque towers 67m/212f) high and a magnificent dome rising to a total height of 111m/365ft. Since the repair of damage suffered by the cathedral during the last war and the cleaning of the facade to remove the accumulated grime of 250 years, St Paul's has been restored to its original majestic beauty, and even the external sculptured decoration by Francis Bird, Edward Pierce and Grinling Gibbons can be seen and appreciated.
The west front, with the main entrance, is 60m/180ft long and has a columned portico surmounted by an upper colonnade. The relief on the pediment of the Conversion of St Paul, the statue of St Paul above the pediment and the two flanking statues of Saints James and Peter are by Francis Bird.
On either side of the portico are two similar Baroque towers. In the left-hand one is a peal of 12 bells, in the right-hand one the largest bell in England, Great Paul, weighing almost 17 tons (cast in 1882).
A flight of marble steps leads up into the cathedral. At the far end of the nave, which is slightly higher than the lateral aisles, the visitor's eye is caught at once by the great dome, borne on eight massive double piers with Corinthian capitals which are buttressed by four subsidiary piers. The cupola is decorated with eight scenes from the life of St Paul by Thornhill; the mosaics were the work of Salviati at the end of the 19th century.
To the left is All Souls' Chapel, which since 1925 has been a memorial chapel to Field Marshal Lord Kitchener (d. 1916).
Adjoining is St Dunstan's Chapel, which is reserved for private prayer. It has a 17th century oak screen and a mosaic by Salviati.
In the north aisle stand monuments to the painter John Leighton, to General Gordon and Prime Minister William Melbourne, Leading to the imposing monument to the Duke of Wellington (d. 1852) by Alfred Stevens. Two groups of statues represent Valour and Cowardice, Truth and Falsehood. The equestrian statue by John Tweed was added in 1912.
The north transept, with a fine font and statues of Sir Joshua Reynolds and Dr Samuel Johnson, was damaged by a bomb in 1941 and rebuilt in 1962. At the end of the north choir aisle is the Chapel of Modern Martyrs.
We now enter the choir, with choir-stalls by Grinling Gibbons; particularly fine are the oblong panels with carved foliage ornament in pear wood. The magnificent high altar with its baldacchino (canopy) is modern, designed by Dykes Bower and Godfrey Allen on the basis of sketches by Wren. The glass mosaics on the arches and walls were designed by W. B. Richmond.
Behind the high altar is the American Memorial Chapel or Jesus Chapel, destroyed in the Second World War and rebuilt in 1958. In the chapel is a roll of honor with the names of 28,000 Americans who fell during operations based on Britain.
In the south choir aisle are the Lady Chapel and a statue of the poet John Donne, the only monument in Old St Paul's which survived the Great Fire. The pulpit, at the southwest corner of the choir, is a splendid piece of woodcarving. In the massive double pier supporting the dome is the dean's vestry.
From the vestry a flight of steps leads down into the crypt, which occupies the whole area under the cathedral and contains the tombs of many notable figures, including the painters Constable, Turner, Landseer and Reynolds and the scientist Alexander Fleming. Under the south aisle lies the simple tombstone of Sir Christopher Wren. The sarcophagi of Wellington and Nelson may also be seen. Nelson's coffin was made from the main mast of the French flagship "L'Orient".
The Nelson monument has allegorical reliefs representing the North Sea, the Baltic, the Mediterranean and the Nile.
In the southwest double pier is the staircase leading up to the Whispering Gallery, the Library and the Dome. Before climbing to the upper parts of the cathedral, however, the tour of the nave should be completed by a visit to the Chapel of St Michael and St George, which can be visited on a "Supertour" only. This is the chapel of the Order of St Michael and St George (instituted in 1818), an honor conferred for service in Commonwealth and foreign affairs.
St Paul's is considered by many to be England's greatest Renaissance church.
St Paul's Cathedral Highlights
St Paul's Galleries & Dome
No visit to St Paul's Cathedral would be complete without the climb to the galleries and dome. There are 259 steps leading up to the Whispering Gallery, which runs round the dome at a height of 33m/100ft above the ground. It is so called because of its remarkable acoustic properties, which make it possible to hear even a whisper across the dome's total width of 35m/112ft. From here visitors can see Thornhill's paintings in the dome and gain a breathtaking impression of the size and proportions of the nave below. From the Whispering Gallery a further 117 steps lead up to the Stone Gallery round the outside of the dome; and 166 steps above this is the Golden Gallery. From both of these galleries there are superb views of London. The ball on the top of the lantern will hold ten people.
Transit: Underground: St Paul's, Mansion House.
St Paul's Cathedral (Ash Wednesday Service)
On Ash Wednesday (February) a Stationers' Company service takes place in the crypt of St Paul's Cathedral, with members wearing traditional robes.
St Paul's Day Oratorio
On St Paul's Day (Jan. 25th) a performance of Mendelssohn's oratorio "St Paul" can be heard in St Paul's Cathedral.