London’s main temple – St Paul’s Cathedral

St Paul’s Cathedral in London

The church is open Monday through Saturday from 10:00 to 16:30. On Sundays there are services and admission is for worshippers only.

One of the most famous churches in Europe, the main and the largest temple of the British capital, St. Paul’s Cathedral is firmly included in all kinds of “must see” lists for tourists visiting London. Prince Charles and Diana Spencer were married here, as well as Churchill’s funeral and the celebrations of the anniversaries of Queen Victoria and Elizabeth II. Up to five services a day are held under the huge St. Paul’s Dome, which towers 68 meters above the main hall, and so many people gather for Sunday services that the clergy are forced to restrict tourist access.

And there is a lot to see, and experienced travelers advise to take at least several hours to see the temple. The rich decoration, most of which was created in the XIX century, is breathtaking. Frescoes, statues, bas-reliefs, historical artifacts, telling about more than a thousand and a half years of history of this place, you can view endlessly. But ahead is the ascent to the galleries that run from the outside of the drum supporting the dome, giving a bird’s-eye view of London.

St. Paul’s Cathedral will impress not only religious people, but also ordinary travelers. The cathedral is located on Ludgate Hill in the historic center of London. A stone’s throw away is the London Stock Exchange, founded in 1801, the City Museum of London and the Millennium Bridge, which leads to the Tate Gallery. This proximity makes a visit to St. Paul’s part of a busy stroll through the City of London.

View of St. Paul from the Thames and Millennium Bridge

The history and architect of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London

Like most ancient churches, St. Paul’s Cathedral has survived more than one demolition. The current building is the fifth variation and differs significantly from previous designs. The creation of the first church is associated with the name of the founder of the Church of England, the first Archbishop of Canterbury. In the last year of his life, which was in the year 604, he bestowed the status of bishop on the monk Mellitus for the first time in history. The latter’s residence was the first church of St. Paul, built at the same time.

At that time the position of Christianity was not stable. As soon as King Sebert, who ruled the Anglo-Saxons, died, his sons, being adherents of paganism, expelled Mellitus, and the church began to decline and soon burned down. By the end of the century, however, Christianity again took the lead, and the cathedral was rebuilt, built in 685 in stone instead of wood. The building stood for almost a century, until in 961 it was destroyed by the Vikings, who raided London and its lands. The third building was rebuilt a year later, but in 1087, in a great London fire of William the Conqueror’s time, it too burnt down.

The fate of the fourth cathedral, also called “Old St. Paul,” was more fortunate. The building served for six centuries. Contrary to its predecessors, its appearance was not Norman, but Gothic. It was a rectangular structure in two floors, decorated with lancet arches and high windows in the upper part. The ribbed vaults combined stone and wood, which decided its fate during the Great Fire of London in 1666. In the middle rose a spire that rose 149 meters above its surroundings, 38 meters higher than the dome of the present cathedral.

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This temple was destroyed by fire, but the sad events began a century before the incident. By the mid-1500s the building was in need of considerable reconstruction, which could not be hoped for. The Reformation era was marked by the hostility of Protestant rulers toward the churches, which remained “branches” of the Roman Catholic Church. Part of the auxiliary buildings in the courtyard of the Cathedral were given over to stores, printing houses, and shops for the developing book printing. In 1561 a lightning bolt destroyed the giant spire, which was interpreted by both sides of the Reformation in their favor as a sign of destiny. Great damage was also caused by the English Revolution – the cathedral was looted by the troops of one of the parties. Well, and in 1666 a fire finally destroyed this church.

The architect of the modern St. Paul’s Cathedral is Christopher Wren – a versatile scientist, professor of mathematics at Oxford, one of the founders of the Royal Society of London. He designed the Cathedral when he was 37 and saw the completion of his major brainchild when he was 76.

Under this architect’s direction, another 50 London churches destroyed by the Great Fire were rebuilt. He is considered the founder of the “Renaissance classicism” style, the embodiment of which became his projects. So it should not be surprising that many churches in the capital of Great Britain resemble St. Paul in certain features and proportions.

The architecture of St. Paul’s

It took Christopher Wren several years to develop the project. The authorities approved only his third idea, and in 1675 construction began. Soon after, the reigning monarch of England, Charles II, insisted that the cathedral have a huge dome, repeating the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, the main church of the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church, which is symbolic, considering all previous attempts of Protestants to free themselves from the authority of the Pope.

The cathedral building is shaped like a cross and stretches 175 meters in length. It consists of two floors and a basement which contains the crypt. The walls are made of stone and ashlar is used in some places. They are very thick, as they serve as a support for heavy structures – weight of the lead dome alone is 65 thousand tons!

By the way, the dome is the most remarkable detail of the cathedral’s appearance. It is based on a drum, which is clearly divided into two levels, and the dome is crowned with a tower, which also consists of two tiers. On its top a golden cross is established. Together with it, the height of the cathedral is 111 meters or 365 feet. The number is not accidental – it refers to the number of days in the year and Christopher Wren’s passion for astronomy.

From afar, one can see the continuous colonnade that lines the lower level of the drum. This detail is the main difference between the dome of Saint Paul and its Vatican counterpart. The technique is called a peristyle, and in Wren’s design it performs not only a decorative but also a load-bearing function, being the support for the second level and structures of the dome. The second level is an exterior gallery with a balcony that circles around the drum. It is called the “stone gallery”, to climb it one has to overcome 376 steps.

At the top of the dome is a two-tiered tower on a square base. The lower level is surrounded by the Golden Gallery, famous for its panoramic view of the city. The upper level is built in the form of a small temple supporting a small dome on which is fixed a golden ball and a cross rising from it.

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View of London from Saint Paul's Golden Gallery

Also noteworthy is the western side of the temple, the appearance of which is designed in the classical style with a two-tiered portico with supports in the form of paired columns. This composition is framed by two towers, one of which contains a belfry with 12 bells and the other one contains a clock dial and 4 bells, including the “Big Paul” and the “Big Tom”.

A grandiose and by today’s standards, the project was made possible by the introduction of a coal tax. Given the brutality of English cold weather, the measure proved unpopular, but effective. Since then the saying went that St. Paul’s was built on the clatter of teeth. The cathedral was illuminated in 1697, the last stone was laid in 1708, and officially opened in 1711, although carvings and statues were added to the facade for several more years.

Contemporaries perceived ambiguously: some admired the splendor, while others saw only a blind imitation of the heavy-handed style of the Vatican. The fate of the new church was fortunate. Even during the bombing of World War II, the church sustained only minor damage. From 1996 to 2011, the cathedral underwent a major restoration.

Inside the church

The whole space of the church is single, but clearly divided into parts by means of architectural elements. There is a nave, a choir and several chapels in honor of various saints. The vaults of the choir are decorated with mosaics created in the 19th century by the artist William Blake Richmond. The interior has many carved and wrought iron details.

The dome is supported by 8 arches, above which runs a cornice that serves as the basis for the Whispering Gallery. This circular gallery is the only one of three galleries located inside the cathedral. The Whispering gallery is named because any words pronounced softly or in a whisper, because of its surprising acoustic properties can be heard in any point of it.

The dome is decorated with paintings by Thornhill, and the interior of the church with sculptures by Greenleague Gibbons. In the south aisle is a copy of William Holman Hunt’s Light of the World, and in the north aisle is a statue of Madonna and Child by Henry Moore. The crypt contains about 200 monuments and burials, including those of Admiral Nelson and the winner of the Battle of Waterloo, the Duke of Wellington, and the architect Christopher Wren, who created the cathedral.

Services and concerts

St. Paul’s has daily activities for the faithful. The list of services opens at 7:30 with a morning prayer service. There are several other services throughout the day. In addition, symphonic music concerts, with and without choral singing, are organized almost every weekend. Occasionally there is an organ. For a schedule of special events at London’s main church, see the Cathedral’s official website.


You can buy tickets to St. Paul both at the ticket office and online through the official website. However, buying online will save you a few pounds. For example, if an offline full ticket for an adult will cost £ 21, when you make it online it will cost £ 18. Note – there are discounts for children, seniors, families and groups.

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St Paul’s Cathedral – Britain’s national treasure and seat of the Bishop of London

St. Paul's Cathedral in Britain

St. Paul’s Cathedral, the largest Protestant church in Europe and the second largest church in the country, is located in London, the capital of Great Britain. Prim and proper, a country of strict rules, England considers the majestic cathedral a national treasure. Built centuries ago in honor of the Apostle Paul, the ancient cathedral is now the current seat of the Bishop of London.

A glimpse through the ages

The modern structure of the state church of England is the fifth version, erected at the highest point of the sacred hill of Langate Hill.

The first cathedral was built in 604 by King Sabert, aided by the priest Mellit, bishop of the kingdom.

The temple, which burned in 675, was immediately revived from the ashes. The Vikings, who came to conquer the British territories in 961, ravaged and destroyed the church. A third, stone cathedral, which had already summoned parishioners with the ringing of bells in 962, was consumed by fire in a major London fire.

The fourth cathedral of St. Paul – a huge structure 180 meters long and the height of the spire 149 meters, in 1666 devastated a four-day fire that engulfed London.

17th-century version

Two years later, the British bishops invited Christopher Wren, a mechanic and mathematician, and an architect of great learning, to design a cathedral to glorify and exalt the nation.

From the history of construction

The bold and independent architect proposed an ambitious plan for the cathedral, which was controversially received by Londoners, so the architect reworked the sketch three times.

Cathedral was 35 years in the making

Construction of the austere design began in 1675. The building was solemnly consecrated on 20 October 1708. The date of the end of construction, 1711, was the peak of the 76-year-old architect’s career, who saw his brainchild in all its splendor.

According to the law of Britain it is forbidden to build buildings next to the cathedral, so as not to block the view of its walls. All interested people should have an unobstructed view of the complexity of the architecture.

A temple in present-day London

After all, implementing his project, Christopher Wren came up with a bold engineering design, combining different materials, so that the Cathedral of St. Paul is recognized as a model among the domed structures of Europe.

Framed by spires, the dome of the cathedral has towered over the city for 300 years and is still considered to be one of the tallest in the world.

The impressive construction combines fanciful baroque and classical, English Gothic and medieval architectural traditions.

The cost of the building in modern money is 150 million pounds sterling. The weight of the cathedral is 65,000 tons.

History of St Paul's Cathedral

Architectural perfection and grandeur of the Protestant temple

The temple was built for 35 years. The authorities ordered the architect to a majestic and grandiose cathedral. The structure, consecrated on the birthday of the author of the project, became a monument to the brilliant architect.

Design features

In a colossal structure – 175.5 m long, 111 m high and 90 m wide – the architect thought out every detail, using the modern construction achievements of the time.

But this is not the only thing which gives the cathedral its majestic appearance. At the personal request of King Charles II the cathedral in London is crowned with a huge triple dome, under which three galleries are placed.


St. Paul’s Cathedral is elongated in length with transepts projecting to the side. These are parts of the cathedral building that cross its central part at right angles. The ends of the transept extend beyond the main part of the cathedral.

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Along the length of the cathedral is the crypt (underground vaulted room, burial vault), which is also the base for 8 massive columns that support the multi-ton dome of the cathedral: the weight of the structure is distributed evenly at the level of the foundation.

Subterranean vaulted room

The construction of the huge dome is supported by specially designed thick walls. In spite of this, the vault of the cathedral is strengthened by arkbutans – external retaining arches, hidden behind a decorative wall in the form of the second floor.

Exterior view of the cathedral

The main, western, facade of the cathedral is built in Baroque style. Here is the central entrance of the cathedral, to which leads a two-staircase with broad steps, decorated with a 30-meter high two-tier classical portico. Both circles are supported by 10 pairs of doubled columns. The architectural details are in harmony with one another.


The triangular pediment of the facade is embellished by the stone bas-relief of the “Conversion of Saul”, (such was the name of Paul before the adoption of Christianity). On both sides of the portico are bell towers with 17 bells. In front of the main entrance is a monument to Queen Anne, who ruled England at the time the church was completed.

Queen Anne Monument

In the southern tower of the cathedral there is a clock with a dial in diameter of 15 meters and a clock mechanism with a length of 5.8 meters, which was created in 1893. There are also four bells. The largest bell in the British Isles, mounted on the cathedral’s bell tower, is named Big Paul and weighs 16.5 tons. It traditionally rings at 1:00 pm.

The bell, named Big Tom, strikes every hour. It is rung at the deaths of members of the royal family, bishops and Lord Mayors of London.

The two smaller bells, weighing 1500kg and 600kg, ring every quarter of an hour. The 13 bells of the north-west tower ring and signal the beginning of the morning service.


The interior of St. Paul’s Cathedral was worked on by outstanding artists of the time. Visitors are delighted by the spacious nave, 68 meters long, 37 meters wide and 28 meters high, with the organ from 1694 and the bishop’s throne.

Great artists worked on the interior

Carved wooden benches, stone carved balustrades, and mosaics of Venetian glass frame the characters of the Old and New Testaments. The hall is decorated with wide stained-glass windows; on the vault there is a gilded arch. The way to the altar is blocked by openwork wrought iron gates; there is no iconostasis here.

In the center of the altar, decorated with a carved gilt, there is a crucifix and a sculpture with images of saints. The choir is separated by wrought iron bars.

Temple interior

A huge granite font standing in the first trave (section of the nave) is a kind of a call to be baptized with water. On either side of the font are the small chapels of St. George and St. Michael and St. Dunstan.

Inside the church

Along the walls of the nave are 67 monuments depicting those people whose work made England famous. Among them are monuments to Duke Arthur Wellington, Lord Horatio Nelson, naval commander, and a monument to John Donne, poet and abbot of the cathedral.


The key element in the appearance of the cathedral is the dome with a diameter of 478 meters. The structure is supported by two tiers of cylindrical masonry and rests on a peristyle, a colonnade built around it which supports a lantern (a stone turret at the top of the dome). Between each of the four columns of the dome the architect added niches that give the structure lightness and grace.

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Under the dome

Above the peristyle is the second tier, surrounded by a balcony with a balustrade, the Stone Gallery, which offers a beautiful view of London. The second tier is decorated with pilasters and windows, separated by gilded niches with statues.

Above the upper tier is a dome covered with lead plates, in which there are eight wells of light. The wells illuminate the inner space of the outer dome.

The stone tower, a lantern, consists of three tiers. The first tier is surrounded by the Golden Gallery, to which 530 steps lead. The second tier is in the form of a small temple with four porticoes. It is crowned by a small dome with a cross. Weight of the lantern is 850 tons.

Crowned by a dome with a cross

At the base of the dome, at a height of 30 meters there is a cornice, supporting the gallery of whispers. The unusual gallery got its name because the word, spoken in whispers, can be clearly heard at the other end of the cathedral at a distance of 34 meters. The space under the dome is decorated with mosaics – 8 scenes from the life of St. Paul.

The crypt and tombs in the cathedral

The massive crypt (burial vault) of the underground tier is arranged along the perimeter of the cathedral with a special margin of safety. By the graves of famous people who have found rest within the walls of the church, you can learn the history of England. In the tombs of the cathedral are buried 200 honorary citizens of Great Britain.

In the burial vaults are buried 200 honorary citizens

In the cathedral rests the ashes of its creator. Christopher Wren’s son left an inscription on the architect’s tombstone, “If you’re looking for a monument, look around.”

Some of Britain’s greatest men are buried on the cathedral grounds :

  • Arthur Wellington, statesman and military leader;
  • Lord Horatio Nelson – English naval commander;
  • Florence Nightingale – heroine of the Crimean War;
  • Joseph William Turner – landscape painter;
  • Hubert Parry – social activist and composer;
  • Samuel Janson, literary critic;
  • Thomas Edward Lawrence – officer, traveler;
  • Alexander Fleming, bacteriologist who discovered penicillin;
  • Henry Moore – sculptor.


St. Paul’s Cathedral in British life

The Cathedral is inseparable from British life and occupies a special place in their consciousness. Important services and state ceremonies are held here:

  • the funerals of Lord Nelson, Winston Churchill and Lady Margaret Thatcher;
  • Diamond Jubilee celebrations – the 60-year reigns of Queen Victoria (1897) and Queen Elizabeth II (2012);
  • Thanksgiving services for the Golden Jubilee and the 80th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II;
  • celebrations on the occasion of the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana;
  • the start of the Festival of Britain;
  • service for peace at the end of I and II wars of pestilence.

St. Paul’s Cathedral is an active church, filled with hourly prayers and daily services. In 2001-2005, the cathedral was restored.

In 2010, the cathedral launched a long-term project, Interpretation. The multimedia panorama tells about 1400 years of the history of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Screens show architectural details of the cathedral and frescoes, walls and archival records of the most important services and events. Information is available in 12 languages, including Russian.

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