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Saint Paul's Cathedral

Saint Paul's Cathedral, London, masterpiece of Sir Christopher Wren and one of the finest church designs of the English baroque. It stands at the head of Ludgate Hill, where, according to tradition, a Roman temple once stood. In the early 7th cent. King Æthelbert of Kent dedicated the first church to St. Paul. The Saxon cathedral was destroyed by fire in 1087 and was replaced by a Norman structure, completed in the 13th cent. In 1561, St. Paul's was again struck by fire. Major rebuilding was not undertaken until 1628, when Inigo Jones was employed to restore it. He appended a classical facade. Plans for further repairs were next prepared by Wren, but the great fire of London (1666) almost destroyed the church, and in 1668 he was granted authority to demolish the badly damaged structure and to build an entirely new one. Wren's design, in the shape of a Greek cross, with a dome over the center, was modified to provide the long nave and choir of the traditional medieval plan. In 1675, Wren himself laid the first foundation block of the building, and 35 years later he set the final stone in place. The interior of the church consists of a three-aisled nave and choir, of equal lengths, extending east and west from a great central space at the crossing. Porticoes project north and south at the center of the building. The crossing is covered by a great dome, pierced at the crown to allow a view of the lantern above. Over this dome rises a concealed conical dome of brick that acts as support for the timber framework of the exterior dome, the entire domical feature thus being constructed in three shells. The western front of the church has as central motif a double-storied portico of coupled columns, flanked by two finely designed towers. The exterior dome, which ranks as one of the great domes of the world, rises above a colonnaded drum and supports a stone lantern terminating with a cross. Wren's scheme for an open, colonnaded piazza to furnish a setting for St. Paul's was not executed. The cathedral was severely damaged by bombings in World War II, and reconstruction according to Wren's original plan was not completed until 1962.

See W. R. Matthews and W. M. Atkins, A History of St. Paul's Cathedral (1957).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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