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In this lesson, we’re going to tour Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London. We’ll learn a bit about its history, study its architectural design, and examine the various styles incorporated into this amazing building.

A Little History of Saint Paul’s

Welcome! My name is Christopher Wren and I’m going to take you on a tour of one of my favorite buildings, Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London. What? You don’t know who I am? You don’t know anything about Saint Paul’s? Well, we’d better remedy that!Let’s begin with a little history. There has been a church on the site of Saint Paul’s for hundreds of years. Buildings burned and were rebuilt many times until the Old Saint Paul’s was constructed in the late 11th century.

That cathedral was getting pretty run down by my day (I was born in 1632), and I, mathematician, astronomer, and architect that I am, was hired to come up with a plan to renovate it. I didn’t get a chance. In 1666, tragedy struck in the form of the Great Fire of London, and a large portion of the city, including the Old Saint Paul’s, was left in ashes.So instead of renovating the Old Saint Paul’s, I got to design and build a new one, and it was quite a process, too, let me tell you. I went through several different designs before the king and his committee finally liked one, and even that one I had to tweak a bit to meet my standards. The construction of the new Saint Paul’s began in 1675, and the cathedral was finally completed in 1710. At least I got to see the fruits of my labor during my lifetime.

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I didn’t die until 1723.

The Plan of Saint Paul’s

Now that you have some background information firmly in place, let’s start our tour. I chose to design Saint Paul’s in the form of an ancient basilica, a type of building used by the Romans for judicial purposes before it was adopted by early Christians as a church.We’ll begin our tour at the cathedral’s primary entrance, the West Front. I’m especially proud of my design here.

Notice the two towers, the columns, the delicate, symmetrical windows, and all the fine decorations carved in relief. I think I quite outdid myself, really.

The West Front entrance
The interior of the cathedral
Interior of the cathedral

Anyway, let’s enter the cathedral.

The basilica design really shows up inside. Saint Paul’s is deliberately shaped like a cross. We’ll walk up the cross as we progress through the nave, which is the main gathering area for worshipers. There are side aisles set off by arches on each side of the nave, and I added pretty little chapels on each side, too.

Look at the interior decorations as we go. The level of detail and ornamentation is stunning, isn’t it? There are paintings and sculptures and mosaics everywhere.

The dome interior
View of the high altar

A Combination of Styles

Before we end our tour, I would like you to know something else very important about this grand cathedral. I intentionally designed Saint Paul’s to incorporate several different architectural styles. Most historians label the cathedral English Baroque and they are quite right. Saint Paul’s is full of Baroque elements.

It’s dramatic and passionate with its massive dome and lavish ornamentation. Not a surface is left untouched by some architectural or artistic element, and the whole scene has a decided feeling of movement with its curves and lines.There is, however, more to Saint Paul’s than the Baroque. I also incorporated Neoclassical elements. Just look at the West Front with its columns, arches, pilasters (flat columns), pediments (triangular pieces at the top and over the windows), and mathematical, symmetrical proportions. Further, I added a few ancient and medieval aspects to my work.

I already mentioned that the cathedral is designed according to the plan of an ancient basilica, and the West Front itself is a variation of the Medieval westwork with its two towers and symmetrical design.

Lesson Summary

Let’s take a moment to review. The current Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London was built after the Great Fire of 1666.

It was designed by me, architect Christopher Wren, and completed in 1710.Saint Paul’s design follows that of an ancient basilica. In our tour, we examined the cathedral’s West Front with its grand entrance, its dramatic dome, its nave, transept, quire, and apse, its stunning interior decorations.We also learned that the cathedral, while English Baroque in overall style, incorporates Neoclassical elements as well as ancient and Medieval aspects.I hope you’ve enjoyed this little tour of Saint Paul’s Cathedral. I certainly appreciate the opportunity to show off my masterpiece.

This is Christopher Wren wishing you a marvelous day.

Learning Outcomes

Retain as much information as possible from this video lesson, then see if you can:

  • Name the person who built Saint Paul’s Cathedral
  • Summarize the history of the cathedral
  • Describe the design style of Saint Paul’s
  • Discuss the baroque and medieval influences on the building’s architecture and decoration

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