Considered the church for true Londoners and the ceremonial heart of the city -- this is St. Paul's. During World War II, the Anglican cathedral stood during the bombs and blazes of the Blitz, giving courage to all England.
Its baroque splendor has also made it a setting for great occasions in modern times, from the 1965 funeral of Winston Churchill to the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981.
St. Paul's Cathedral ranks as England's
only baroque cathedral.
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Four previous churches stood on the site, the earliest built in 604 at the dawn of Christianity in England. A gargantuan medieval version -- the largest building in England -- was a raucous haunt rife with beer sellers and beggars, ball players and rogues, market-stall vendors and their animals. In the mid-1500s authorities actually had to ban shooting inside the church.
Old St. Paul's burned in the Great Fire of London in 1666, thereby giving architect Christopher Wren an empty canvas. Protestant authorities rejected his vision of a domed baroque church of Italian style (perhaps it was too much like the Catholic St. Peter's in Rome), so he submitted a steepled design that won approval.
During 35 years of construction that ended in 1710, however, Wren managed through secretive tactics to add back the dome and other features of his beloved earlier plan.
The cathedral's 360-foot-high dome is actually layered, with an outer wooden dome cased in lead, an inner dome, and a brick cone between them to support the 850-ton lantern on top. Visitors unfazed by vertigo may climb 530 stairs to reach three successive galleries around the dome. At the summit, the Golden Gallery offers stunning views of London -- the city the cathedral was built to serve.
Far below, in the largest crypt in Europe, tombs memorialize English heroes and artists, ranging from Admiral Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington to painters Joshua Reynolds and J.M.W. Turner. Cathedral architect Wren lies here too, the inscription on his tomb advising: "Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you."
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jerry Camarillo Dunn Jr., has worked with the National Geographic Society for more than 20 years, starting as a staff editor, writer, and columnist at Traveler magazine, then writing travel guides. His latest work is National Geographic Traveler: San Francisco. Dunn’s Smithsonian Guide to Historic America: The Rocky Mountain States has sold more than 100,000 copies. His travel pieces appear in newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune and The Boston Globe. Jerry Dunn's stories have won three Lowell Thomas Awards from the Society of American Travel Writers -- the highest honor in the field. He also wrote and hosted a pilot episode for a travel show produced by WGBH, Boston's public television station.