Saturday, 10 October 2009

St Paul's Cathedral

Watching the service of commemoration from St. Paul's yesterday morning, attended by the Queen and most of the Royal Family, I was reminded of just what a sublimely beautiful and magnificent building St. Paul's is. It was built, as we all know, by Sir Christopher Wren, on the site of the earlier mediaeval church destroyed by the Great Fire in 1666, and finished in 1704. It is perhaps the fifth cathedral on that site. Wren drew his inspiration from the great buildings going up on the continent - St. Peter's in Rome, S. Maria della Salute in Venice - who themselves referred back to Palladio and through him to Vitruvius and Ancient Rome. It is a very English kind of restrained baroque, but none the less splendid for that. The height of St. Paul's is 365ft, up to the top of "the cross of gold, that shines over city and river", evoked by Tennyson in his Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington.

The north-west tower contains 13 bells hung for change ringing, while the south-west contains four, including Great Paul, at 16½ tons the largest bell in the British Isles, cast in 1881, and Great Tom (the hour bell). The bell is only rung on occasions of a death in the royal family, the Bishop of London, or London's mayor.

Although struck several times by bombs during World War II, St. Paul's survived, and indeed became a symbol of London's resistance to the Blitz, as shown in the iconic photograph of the famous dome rising above the smoke and flames of war.

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