When we were in Tennessee over Christmas, my uncle mentioned that one of his favorite places he visited in London was St Paul’s Cathedral. I’d seen the church many times in passing, as you do in London, but hadn’t had the opportunity to go inside until a couple weekends ago, prompted by my uncle’s insistence that it would be worth our time. (He wasn’t wrong!)
We happened to be visiting St Paul’s Cathedral on one of those rare sunny days London experiences in the winter, and I was so impressed by how magnificent the cathedral looked against the blue skies that I ended up taking way more pictures than I intended to. If you’ve been a reader here for very long, you’ll know what that means – St Paul’s Cathedral is going to be a two-parter. Today we’ll be checking out the beautiful architecture of St Paul’s, and then we’ll head inside the cathedral in my next post!
The current St Paul’s Cathedral is a relatively new cathedral at only 300 years old. It was built by the famous English architect, Christopher Wren, after the Great Fire of 1666 destroyed the old St Paul’s Cathedral. Christopher Wren was charged with rebuilding over fifty churches after the Great Fire, but St Paul’s was his grand masterpiece. He died shortly after its completion and is buried in the OBE Chapel in the cathedral’s crypt.
We’ve seen and toured quite a few churches since moving to Europe, and most of them, like Bath Abbey and Notre-Dame Cathedral, were built in the Gothic architectural style. St Paul’s Cathedral was our first cathedral to visit built with a neoclassical design. Our tour guide called it a “simple” design. I’m not sure I’d go that far (I grew up going to country churches – I know what simple looks like!), but I suppose in comparison to flying buttresses and pointed spires, St Paul’s Cathedral could technically be perceived as simpler. However you want to describe it, there’s no denying the elegance of the dome and those tall, white Corinthian columns. Pure beauty.
Heading around to the cathedral’s majestic West Front, you’ll see the statue of Queen Anne, reigning monarch at the time of the cathedral’s completion, welcoming visitors to St Paul’s Cathedral. The entrance is on this side of the church, but us common folk won’t be able to enter through the fancy doors pictured above. Those are known as the Great West Doors and are only used for special occasions or royalty. (You might recognize them from photos of Prince Charles and Lady Diana’s wedding. They were used for Diana’s and her procession’s entrance, as well as the couple’s exit.)
A massive church clean-up and restoration, on both the exterior and interior, was recently completed in 2011. Three centuries of pollution and exposure to the elements had left the cathedral blackened and dirty. But now, 15 years and £40 million later, St Paul’s Cathedral gleams in the sunlight, almost blinding white at times, the symbol of purity. As you wander around admiring the cathedral, make sure you stop in the gardens, particularly if you visit in the spring or summer. Benches are scattered throughout and they’re a lovely spot to sit and marvel at the view!
Click here for Part 2: A Look Inside St Paul’s Cathedral
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