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Beautiful Buildings: St Paul’s Cathedral

St Pauls Cathedral is one of the most recognised religious buildings in the world.
St Paul’s Cathedral is one of the most recognised religious buildings in the world.

St Paul’s Cathedral is the epicentre of Christian religion in London. Its awe-inspiring beauty has been in continual use since opening in 1708 and the building is undoubtedly part of the United Kingdom’s national identity. But who was the mastermind behind this stunning piece of English Baroque architecture?

There had been a church on the site of the current St Paul’s Cathedral for centuries, remains date back to 604AD. The “Old St Paul’s Cathedral” was built in the 11th Century and stood until the Great Fire of London in 1666 when four fifths of London was wiped off the map and the city was in desperate need of a new place to worship and find peace.

Step forward, Christopher Wren, the architect behind the rejuvenation of the St Paul’s Cathedral site who designed this stunning cathedral as it stands today. Taking 36 years to build, the cathedral itself is an impressive example of the construction skills people were capable of nearly 400 years ago. Interestingly, it took Wren three attempts to create a design acceptable to ministers and religious figures. In the building process Wren altered construction to resemble his second design, the largest and grandest of all, making the dome much larger than in the approved plans.

Looking up to Wren's magnificent dome at the heart of St Pauls Cathedral.
Looking up to Wren’s magnificent dome at the heart of St Paul’s Cathedral.

The magnificent dome is undoubtedly the highlight of St Paul’s and is one of the largest in the world. At 111m, the dome is nothing short of breath-taking and the space resonates grandeur and beauty. With choir song ringing around the church nearly every day of the year, the atmosphere created is unrivalled in London – especially at Christmas and during advent when the cathedral is at its busiest the space is an experience to be in.

Perhaps no greater feat has ever been achieved by man than the building of St Paul’s dome

Architects’ and Builders’ Journal, 9 July 1913, vol. 38, p.27

The cathedral as a whole is in the design of a basilica, which was a building used in ancient Rome as a law court or for public assemblies and then later adopted by Christians to be used as a place of worship. Famous examples include St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican and the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. At the west front entrance the two towers and columns are all carved into with intricate designs and the symmetry of the two halves is exact. The two chapels which flank the main cathedral are built to the same beautiful standard as the rest of the building.

The finer, less well-known, details of the building by Wren are in my opinion what really makes this building intriguing. The floor plan of the whole building is in the shape of a cross, representing that used in Christian worship. Furthermore, the dome reaches a height of 365m, representing each day of the year and symbolising the idea that the church should be a part of everyday Christian life.

Without doubt St Paul’s Cathedral is one of the most iconic churches worldwide and it produces an atmosphere that few other buildings in the UK recreate. As much as architecture is about the aesthetics – the face value, to me better architecture creates a place, an atmosphere and a building with character. St Paul’s Cathedral embodies all of these values whilst providing a vital function to the local community, something very few buildings in the UK do to the same standard as Wren’s creation.