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St. Paul's Cathedral: Sir Christopher Wren

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St. Paul's Cathedral

St. Paul's Cathedral has had a very interesting and long history. It involves natural disasters, sabotage, invasions, lies, and deception. It has been through a lot over the many years of its existence, including several reconstructions. While there has been many changes to it, the one thing that could be counted on was the fact that there was always something unexpected happening to it. Even though St. Paul's Cathedral has had some hard times, it has re-bounded with the help of several generations of citizens, and has become the architectural jewel as we know it to be today in the crowded streets of London.

1. There were many unfortunate events that happened to St. Paul's, which resulted in the production of the cathedral that stands today. Describe in detail, the historical events that resulted in the continuous renovations, and how the new building is so special in an architectural sense due to Sir Christopher Wren's unorthodox way of going about business.

The first church was built in honor of St. Paul in 604, only eight years after the first documented Christian mission. This church was destroyed by fire, but rebuilt by Bishop St. Erkenwald in 675. The Vikings destroyed the second church during one of their periodical invasions. After it was rebuilt again, it burned to the ground in 1087. The next attempt at the building took 150 years to complete, the final major touches were finished in 1240 and the building was referred to as Old St. Paul's. In 1313 and 1314, Gothic choirs were added to make the church the 3rd longest in the world at 596 ft. The spire was also completed, that made it the tallest building in Europe, standing tall at 489 ft.

The church was harmed again in 1549 when preachers incited a mob, which ransacked the church. The rioting took a toll on the interior of the church. Shortly after the riots, the spire was struck by lightning; the building decayed and became somewhat condemned and run-down. During the English Civil War, the Parliamentary troops used the nave as a cavalry barracks, and sold the scaffolding for supplies.

Christopher Wren was hired in 1660 for the restoration of the old church, but before he got a chance to do so, another natural disaster occurred. On September 4, 1666, a fire broke out in a bakery on Pudding Lane. The fire spread rapidly throughout the tight and compact streets of London and destroyed almost everything in the city, including St. Paul's Cathedral. The King of England at the time, Charles III, who had appointed Wren to do the restoration of the church, now gave Wren the opportunity to re-build the church in whatever way he wished. The only thing standing in Wren's way was the Clergy, which had to approve his designs, but Wren found a way around the Clergy's watchful eye.

2. Wren had to have his plans for the new cathedral approved by the Clergy. They gave him a difficult time because they didn't want to give Wren a lot of freedom to do what he felt should be done. Explain the process in which Wren went through before his design was approved.

Wren had to come up with a new design for St. Paul's. He also had to do so for about fifty other churches in the area, but the cathedral was his focus. The design for the church had to be approved by the Clergy, and they were very picky with what they wanted. The first design he gave them was based on the old church, but the Clergy wanted it to be different. So the second design he submitted was radically different, but the Clergy rejected that too, the reason being that it was just too radical. It was modeled after a Greek cross, with a massive dome on the end, and a small spire. The Clergy approved the third design Wren submitted, but he wasn't happy with the design. He asked Charles III for some help, and Wren received permission to make "variations, ornamental rather than essential" changes to the design, this grant was used extensively throughout the construction of the new cathedral.

3. How did Wren keep all of the changes in the design a secret until it was too late to be changed?

There were numerous changes to the design of the approved cathedral, almost all of the essential details were changed or exaggerated. Wren had to hide all of his changes with scaffolding and barriers from the Clergy, had they found out what was being done to their cathedral, Wren would have most certainly been fired from the project. But, he kept it a secret so well, with the help of Charles III, that by the time the Clergy found out what he had done, it was too far along in the construction. If they wanted to undo all the changes, it would have cost them a fortune, so they were forced to stay with the changes Wren had made.

4. Describe the major changes made by Wren in the design.

The most noticeable changes made by Wren were the addition of two towers at the West end, and he made the dome much larger and removed the spire. Other changes he made were the removal of three bays in the nave and raised the ceiling of the aisles. The dome was made so large that it actually is the second largest dome in the world; it was inspired by the dome at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. The Dome, from its cross at the peak, to its summit, stands at 365 feet, representing each day of the year. Wren achieved a pleasing appearance by actually building three separate domes. The large exterior Dome is for appearance only, it serves no structural purpose. The innermost Dome provides and artistically balanced interior. Between the two is a structural cone, which supports the apex structure and the outer Dome paneling, it cannot be seen from either side. The main space of the cathedral is centered under the Dome; it holds three circular galleries, the internal Whispering Gallery, the external Stone Gallery, and the external Golden Gallery. The Quire extends to the east of the Dome and holds the stalls for the Clergy. It has been said that Wren actually got onto a crane and personally inspected all the artwork done on the interior of the dome himself, this just shows how dedicated to every detail he was as an architect. This was his own personal masterpiece and he wanted everything to be to his liking.

5. Explain how St. Paul's Cathedral was actually the result of several different parts of already famous structures.




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