A view of central London and the river Thames from the cathedral
St Paul's Cathedral is a cathedral on Ludgate Hill, in the City of London, and the seat of the Bishop of London. The present building dates from the 17th century, and is generally reckoned to be London's fourth St Paul's Cathedral, although the number is higher if every major medieval reconstruction is counted as a new cathedral.
The previous cathedrals
The see of London dates from AD 604, and its cathedral has always been situated on Ludgate Hill and dedicated to Saint Paul. Ludgate Hill itself has long been associated with religion. It is believed that it was originally the site of an ancient megalith and then later a temple dedicated to the goddess Diana, in alignment with the Apollo Temple which once stood at Westminster.
The first cathedral was built by the Saxons in wood. It burned down in AD 675 and was rebuilt, again in wood, ten years later. After this version was sacked by the Vikings in 962, the "second" St Paul's was built, this time mainly in stone.
The third St Paul's (known as Old St Paul's), was begun by the Normans after the late Saxon cathedral suffered in a fire of 1087. Work took over two hundred years, and a great deal was lost in a fire in 1136. Nonetheless the roof was once more built of wood, which was ultimately to doom the building. The church was "completed" in 1240 but a change of heart soon led to the commencement of an enlargement programme, which was not completed until 1314. The cathedral was however consecrated in 1300. It was the third longest church in Europe at 596 feet (181 metres) and boasted one of Europe's tallest spires at some 489 feet (149 metres).
By the 16th century the building was decaying. Under Henry VIII and Edward VI, the Dissolution of the Monasteries and Chantries Acts led to the destruction of interior ornamentation in the cathedral as well as the cloisters, charnels, crypts, chapels, shrines, chantries and various other buildings in the churchyard. Many of these former religious sites in Paul's Yard, having been seized by the crown, were sold as shops and rental properties, especially to printers and booksellers who were often evangelical Protestants. The more ornate buildings that were razed often supplied building material for new construction projects, such as Somerset House.
Crowds were drawn to the northeast corner of the yard, St. Paul's Cross, where open air preaching took place. It was there in the Cross Yard in 1549 that radical Protestant preachers incited a mob to destroy many of the cathedral's interior decorations. In 1561 the spire was destroyed by lightning and it was not replaced; this event was taken by Protestants and Catholics alike as a sign of God's displeasure of the other side's actions.
England's first classical architect Sir Inigo Jones added the cathedral's new west front in the 1630s, but there was much defacement and mistreatment of the building by Parliamentarian forces during the Puritan Revolution. "Old St Paul's" was finally ruined in the Great Fire of London of 1666. While it might have been salvageable, albeit with almost complete reconstruction, a decision was taken to build a new cathedral in a modern style instead. Indeed this had been contemplated even before the fire.
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St Paul's Cathedral
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