Brief History: the old gothic cathedral of St Paul's was largely ruined by the Great Fire of 1666. It had, in any case, fallen into bad repair: earlier in the century, Inigo Jones had added a classical portico, and earlier in 1666, Sir Christopher Wren had proposed adding "a spacious dome" to the essentially romanesque structure. In 1669, Charles II commissioned Wren to build an entirely new cathedral. It was finished in 1710.
What was the problem? The question: what on earth did a Protestant cathedral look like? None had been built since the Reformation. Architectural fashion pointed towards a classical building - visiting Paris, Wren had been dazzled by domed churches like the Invalides. Naturally, as a thrusting modern architect - the Norman Foster of his day - Wren wanted to give London a classical cathedral, with a dome as its crowning glory. But his favoured model, designed on a Greek-cross plan, was deemed too Roman for the Church of England. Too like St Peter's; too Catholic in its huge void under the dome, just begging for an altar centre-stage. Eventually, Church, King and architect bashed out a compromise, and the foundation stone was laid in 1675. It took 35 years to build (which allowed Wren to sneak in bits of his original design). It was financed by a tax put on coal coming into the City; in 1697, Parliament, arguing that it was proceeding too slowly, cut Wren's salary by half. But he lived to see his phoenix rise: he didn't die until 1723, at the age of 91, and is buried in the crypt.
The building: the quintessential example of an English baroque church. That's why Prince Charles got married there. But thanks to Wren's assistant, Hawkmoor, it's a sexier, more subversive building than HRH's approval suggests.
Strange but true: when Wren was deciding the position of the dome, he needed a stone to mark the place. A workman handed him a piece of nearby rubble. Turning it over, Wren discovered it was a gravestone fragment from the ruins of the former St Paul's carved with "RESURGAM" - "I shall rise again."
Current event: the premiere of John Tavener's latest choral piece, The Last Discourse. Wed, tickets pounds 5-pounds 25. All bookings on 0171 638 8891.
Transport: funnily enough, St Paul's tube station (Central line).
Admission charge: Protestant conversion or pounds 4 (plus a pricey pounds 3 for the Gallery).
Any chance of a drink? unless you count Communion (Sundays, 8am and 12.30pm), you'll be lucky.Reuse content