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Saint Paul’s Cathedral

Saint Paul’s Cathedral (29)

There have been four temples built successively on the land currently occupied by Saint Paul’s, the cathedral of the diocese of London. Work began on the latter, the definitive, in 1675, since the previous one had been burnt to a cinder following the Great Fire of 1666. It was completed in 1710, and the result is a cathedral of stunning beauty and elegance.

 The responsibility for designing the temple was that of Christopher Wren, who at the time was the head works supervisor for King Charles II. After a series of vicissitudes that forced him to confront the bigwigs of the Anglican Church, he presented the definitive project, the Latin cross cathedral brilliantly crowned by the famous dome that today is one of the most recognisable shapes in the London landscape.

The dome, one of Wren’s great technical and artistic achievements, is the second highest in the world. Its 110 metres height is only surpassed by the basilica of Saint Peter’s in the Vatican. Settled over 8 pillars, it measures 31 metres in diameter. During the construction of this structure, Wren climbed up once a week to see how the works were progressing. Luckily, at the age of 76 he was able to see with his own eyes how his son placed the last stone.

At the highest point of the dome, just beneath the lantern that crowns it, is the Golden Gallery, a small gallery reserved for the very bravest, who will have to climb 530 steps to reach it. Forget it if you get vertigo, because even though the views of the city are incredible, the gallery is 85 metres high.

Climbing 200 steps less you will be able to reach the Stone Gallery. If you do not want to set foot outside of the dome, you can visit the Whisperers Gallery inside, where, apart from a privileged view of the nineteenth-century mosaics and the frescos by James Thornhill, there are some curious sound effects. 

The west portico, flanked by two towers and supported by Corinthian columns, is the main entrance to the cathedral, but do not miss the chance to see the curious semicircular portico on the south side.

The interior, with a central nave of 150 metres flanked by large arches, is cold and austere, although it is richly decorated. It features the choir stalls carved by Grinling Gibbons and their ironwork, by the Frenchman Jean Tijou.

The first service was held in 1697, and since then the temple has hosted important historic events such as the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill or the wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales, to Diana Spencer.

If you are going to ask whether, just like Westminster Abbey, in Saint Paul’s there are famous people buried, then the answer is yes: go down to the crypt and you will find the sepulchres of figures such as Admiral Nelson, Alexander Fleming, discoverer of penicillin, and Christopher Wren himself.

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