Thursday, 30 July 2015

Treasures of Britain; St Paul's Cathedral

St Paul's Cathedral


When the Great Fire of 1666 swept the City of London, it was the fourth time a church on this site-which had once contained a Roman temple to Diana- had been destroyed. A wooden strucuture, dedicated to St Paul in 604 by St Ethelbert, King of Kent, burned down 70 years later. A second cathedral,built in stone in 675-85, was laid waste by the Vickings in 961. A third burned down in 1087 and the Norman cathedral-larger than the present one-was begun straight away. Stone was brought by sea from the quarries of Caen,and the spire(to be struck by lightning in 1447 and destroyed by fire in 1561)was the tallest yet built. After the Fire, Sir Christopher Wren was commisssioned to rebuild not only St Paul's but another 51 churches throughout the City as well. His design, with a traditional cruciform gothic groundplan and a tall steeple, was finally accepted in 1675 and building began immediately. But the Cathedral that was officially declared finished-after many rows and delays-in 1711 did not bear very much resemblance to those original plans. Gone was the steeple reaching the sky; instead there was the great classical dome, ingeniously constructed so that the imposing outer roof is 60 feet (20 m) taller than the inner ceiling. The lantern tower that crowns the dome is-together with the two fantastic western towers designed as late as 1707-distinctly baroque.

James Thornhill painted the frescoes of the life of St Paul wich adorn the inner dome. These are the best seen from the Whispering Gallery, 100 feet (30 m) high and famed for its acoustics. The Golden Gallery at the top of the dome offers spectacular views but entails a climb of 530 steps. Among the great craftsmen employed by Wren was the master-ironworker Jean Tijou, who made the gates to the north and south chancel aisles plus the balustrade to the elegant geometrical staircase by master-mason William Kempster. Grinling Gibbons, at his most inspired, carved the choir-stalls, bishop's throne and organ case. (the organ istself was played by both Handel and Mendelssohn)

Wren died in 1723 aged 91 and appropriately was one of the first to be buried in the whitewashed crypt. An inscription in Latin above his modest marble slab, composed by his son, reads; 'Reader, if you seek his memorioal, look about you.' Positioned immmediately beneath the dome is Nelsons's impressive black sarcophagus. Wellington's sarcophagus is towards the east of the crypt, while his massive memorial almost fills the north aisle above.

Because I love art and these painters so much I payed more attention to their graves down in the crypt; a lot of them from the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. 

© KH

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