St paul cathedral london

St Paul Cathedral London | History, Facts, Highlights & More

London's most iconic architectural masterpiece, St Paul's Cathedral is known for its world-famous dome that to this day dominates the skylines of the city. Aside from being ahead of its time in its architectural prowess, this Anglican church is also the seat of the Bishop of London. Read on to discover everything about this star landmark before you plan a visit of a lifetime.

St Paul’s Cathedral Overview

St Paul's Cathedral London

What is St Paul’s Cathedral?

St Paul's Cathedral London

Where is St Paul’s Cathedral Located?

Why is St Paul’s Cathedral so Popular?

Hugely popular for being one of the tallest and largest historical monuments in the world and for its stunning architecture and religious importance, St Paul's Cathedral attracts approximately 2 million visitors per year. Around half of them visit one of the masses. The Cathedral also offers space to comfortably accommodate around 3,500 people. Its rich architectural history and the breathtaking views from the dome-top make it a must-visit attraction in London.

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How to Visit St Paul's Cathedral

Unless you are visiting the cathedral for prayers or for a service, you will have to buy tickets to St Paul's Cathedral to explore the same. We suggest that you pre-book your tickets online to ensure that your visit is properly planned. Not only can you book your tickets beforehand, you can also cancel your tickets if you change your mind.

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Who Built St Paul’s Cathedral?

christopher wren st paul's cathedral

Brief History of St Paul’s Cathedral

  • The first church dedicated to the apostle Paul was built in 604 AD on Ludgate Hill. However, repeated attacks at the time repeated the cycle of destruction and reconstruction several times until 1087. 
  • The fourth church of St Paul, better known as Old St Paul’s Cathedral was built in 1087. It took over 150 years to complete this structure, with the Romanesque style of architecture changing to Gothic. This building survived for almost 600 years.
  • Despite its greatness, the fourth structure of St Paul's began decaying by the 16th century. The spire was sadly destroyed by lightning in 1561. The Great Fire further destroyed the cathedral, after which it was decided that a new church be built.
  • Sir Christopher Wren was assigned the task of rebuilding this iconic structure. After years of planning and construction, the New Cathedral was declared officially complete by Parliament on 25 December 1711.
  • The New Cathedral had some decorative changes made to the interiors to bring it in line with Victorian tastes. Sir James Thornhill provided a decorative scheme for the interior with eight scenes from the life of St Paul. 
  • Despite the efforts to enliven the building interiors, St Paul’s was an unpopular venue. After George I’s visit, no monarch visited again for seventy-four years. George III marked its recovery in 1789 with a special Thanksgiving service attended by thousands. 
  • In the early 20th century, St Paul's Cathedral was deemed to be in a dangerous state and in need of urgent repairs. The Cathedral was closed from 1925 to 1930 while the piers and dome were strengthened under the supervision of the surveyor Walter Godfrey Allen. 

St Paul's Cathedral History >

Today’s St Paul’s Cathedral Design

St Paul's Cathedral London

Development of the Design

As part of the initial design called the 'First Model', Dr Christopher Wren suggested a radical solution to replace the square tower with a large dome. Due to lack of funds, he also proposed that the chapel be built on the original foundations and for it to be around one-third of the size of the final building. This plan was however rejected on the grounds of being too modest by the Dean and Chapter.

st paul's cathedral

Final Design

Before committing to the final design, Christopher Wren submitted three other designs after the first between 1670 and 1672. These were rejected on the basis of being too radical, too Catholic or foreign. The chapter pushed for a model in the traditional cross-shape and so Wren's final design was to strike a middle ground. What we see today is a mix of his original idea of a dome together with ornamental changes requested by King Charles.

st paul's cathedral

Structural Engineering

Sir Wren tactfully overcame several structural engineering challenges. To help construct a large cathedral on weak clay soil he tactfully built Europe's largest crypt for support, whereas, to construct the signature dome, he took inspiration from what Michelangelo did at St Peter's. He also replaced several non-working elements from older designs to feature new and improved sections, as and when the construction took place.

St Paul’s Cathedral Technical Information

  • Cathedral Length: 518 ft., 158 m
  • Nave Width: 121 ft., 37 m
  • Width Across Transepts: 246 ft., 75 m
  • Cathedral Height: 365 ft., 111 m
  • Outer Dome Height: 278 ft., 85 m
  • Inner Dome Height: 225 ft., 69 m
  • Outer Dome Diameter: 112 ft., 34 m
  • Inner Dome Diameter: 102 ft., 31 m
  • Dome Weight: 65,000 tons
  • Number of Towers: 2
  • Tower Height: 221 ft., 67 m

St Paul’s Cathedral Highlights

st paul's cathedral

The West Front

The West Front has a 30-foot high Great West Door. It is the main entrance but is only entirely opened on special occasions. It has a columned portico which is topped by an upper columned colonnade, further topped by the pediment which features a bas-relief sculpture known as the Conversion of St. Paul by Francis Bird. A Statue of Saint Paul rests above the pediment along with statues of Saint James and Saint Peter. There are also two bell towers that sit on either side of the portico.

st paul's cathedral

The Dome Exterior

St. Paul's Cathedral's famous dome (the second largest in the world), which has long dominated the London skyline, is double-shelled and composed of three components - an outer dome, a concealed cone made from brick for support, and an inner dome. This idea stemmed from Michelangelo's dome of St Peter's Basilica but was clearly improved upon to feature extra supportive elements. There's a cross on top of the outer dome that stands nearly 366 feet above ground level.

st paul's cathedral

The Dome Interior

St. Paul's Cathedral interiors were designed with unobstructed views of the altar and pulpit such that all visitors would be able to see and hear the Mass. The interior receives ample natural light from 24 large windows in the dome and the rose windows in the transept. The choir vaults have stalls for the clergy and cathedral officers along with the choir and the organ. The region next to the high altar was damaged by the Blitz and then later, reconstructed with the addition of stained glass. The small chapel here pays respects to the American servicemen who lost their lives in WW2.

st paul's cathedral

The Apse

The eastern portion of the main floor of the cathedral is where the High Altar and the Apse are located. Dedicated in 1958 as the American Memorial Chapel, the apse was paid for entirely by donations. The names of more than 28,000 Americans are inscribed in the Roll of Honour to pay respects to those who gave their lives while on their way to or were assigned positions in the UK during WW2. You can find the Roll of Honour in front of the chapel's altar.

st paul's cathedral

The High Altar

The High Altar, beautifully carved of a slab of Italian marble that weighs nearly four tons, was designed after the original sketches by Wren. It was made into a memorial for those who lost their lives in WW2. A large cross almost 10 ft. tall sits atop the High Altar. It has a stone embellished silver and is flanked by two gilded candlesticks, each 5 ft. tall. The Altar is also covered by a large oak canopy that was installed in 1958.

st paul's cathedral

Interior Artwork

St Paul’s Cathedral is home to a spectacular collection of art. The interiors boast vibrant, monumental mosaics, one of the most admired aspects of the decoration of the Cathedral. Of these, the sparkling Quire mosaics, created for the Cathedral between 1891 and 1904 are the most popular. Other must-see works of art include carvings and sculptures by Grinling Gibbons in the quire, Sir James Thornhill's dome murals, Henry Moore's Mother and Child: Hood and the Victorian mosaics.

st paul's cathedral

Clocks and Bells

On either side of St. Paul's West Front are two Baroque-style bell towers known as the West Towers. The southwest tower is a clock that has three faces, above which hang the bells, Great Tom and Great Paul. Great Paul was the largest bell in the UK until the Olympic Bell in 2012. Great Tom, on the other hand, is a frequently used bell. It chimes every hour and is also tolled whenever there is a death in the Royal family, or the death of the Bishop or the Lord Mayor of London.

St. Paul Cathedral

The Walls

St Paul’s Cathedral is mostly a two-story building of ashlar masonry. In the areas made of just one story, like the aisles of the nave and the choir, the upper story exterior is false. This serves a dual purpose; the wall supports the buttresses of the vault and it also provides a beautiful appearance as the cathedral rises above the other 17th century buildings, which is still visible from across the River Thames.

St. Paul Cathedral

The West Towers

There are two clock towers on the West Front made with thicker walls than the sides of the building to give them the appearance of strength. The southwest tower adorns the clock while the northwest tower is empty on the top. The towers are made from a series of stacked drums supported by Corinthian columns in the corners and buttresses above them. There are also chapels located right behind each tower, although invisible from the front.

St. Paul Cathedral

The South Churchyard

The area immediately around St Paul's Cathedral is the St. Paul's Churchyard. It was redone in 2008 with a floor-plan of the Old St Paul’s Cathedral that existed before it burned down in the Great Fire. You can find this floor plan at the western end of the courtyard, along with a superimposition of the outline of the current building.

St. Paul Cathedral

St Paul’s Cross

In the northeast churchyard of the cathedral, there is a plaque that indicates the location of the St Paul’s Cross. It used to be an open-air pulpit from which many of the most important statements on political and religious changes were made public during the 16th and 17th centuries. Today, a column with a gilded statue of St Paul stands here to remember the public preaching of Christianity that once took place here.

St Paul’s Cathedral Bells Technical Information

  • Bell 1: Weight - 421 kg; Note - F
  • Bell 2: Weight - 466 kg; Note - E♭
  • Bell 3: Weight - 501 kg; Note - D
  • Bell 4: Weight - 594 kg; Note - C
  • Bell 5: Weight - 673 kg; Note - B♭
  • Bell 6: Weight - 692 kg; Note - A
  • Bell 7: Weight - 834 kg; Note - G
  • Bell 8: Weight - 1113 kg; Note - F
  • Bell 9: Weight - 1394 kg; Note - E♭
  • Bell 10: Weight - 1521 kg; Note - D
  • Bell 11: Weight - 2210 kg; Note - C
  • Bell 12: Weight - 3130 kg; Note - B♭
  • Clock Bell 1: Weight - 639 kg; Note - A♭
  • Clock Bell 2: Weight - 1256 kg; Note - E♭
  • Clock Bell 3: Weight - 5205 kg; Note - A♭
  • Bourdon Bell: Weight - 17002 kg; Note - E♭
  • Communion Bell: Weight - 952 kg; Note - E♭

Inside the St Paul’s Cathedral Dome

St. Paul Cathedral

The Whispering Gallery

If you climb 257 steps towards the dome from the cathedral floor, you reach the spectacular Whispering Gallery. It runs around the dome 100 feet off the ground and is called so because of its remarkable acoustic properties. No matter where you stand near the walls, it's possible to hear a whisper from across the dome.

st paul's cathedral

The Stone Gallery

From the Whispering Gallery, a further 117 steps (52 meters above the ground level and 376 steps in total) lead up to the Stone Gallery around the outside of the dome. Two galleries above the Whispering Gallery encircle the outside of the dome, and this is the first one of them.

st paul's cathedral

The Golden Gallery

Another 166 steps above the Stone Gallery is the Golden Gallery. It is the smallest of all the galleries in the cathedral and is located 85 meters off the ground around the highest point of the outer dome. It takes a total of 528 steps to get to this gallery, but it allows you to experience some of the most breathtaking views of the London skyline.

St. Paul Cathedral

The Ball and Lantern

The ball and lantern atop the cathedral that you see today were designed by C R Cockerell, the Surveyor to the Fabric. They replaced the original pair which was erected back in 1708. Their combined height is about 23 feet and approximately weigh about 7 tons.

St Paul’s Cathedral Crypt

st paul's cathedral

Nelson’s Tomb

In the Cathedral Crypt, there is a tomb containing the remains of Lord Nelson. The person commemorated here was not only a famous military leader but also one of England's most famous navy officers who was killed at the decisive Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. While his tomb was originally made for Cardinal Wolsey, after his falling, the coffin remained unused until Lord Nelson.

st paul's cathedral

Wellington’s Tomb

Wellington was an important figure in British history, and his tomb is a significant landmark in London. The tomb is a reminder of Wellington's impressive military career and his role in shaping British history. Known for being the Iron Duke, Wellington's legacy continues to be celebrated today in the form of several namesakes - Wellington boots, Beef Wellington (a dish) and also a brand of cigars.

st paul's cathedral

Sir Christopher Wren’s Tomb

Sir Christopher Wren’s Tomb is also located in the crypt at St Paul's Cathedral. He was an English architect who designed and built many famous buildings, including St. Paul's Cathedral. He died in 1723 and was buried in the crypt of the cathedral. A famous Latin epitaph adorns the wall above his tomb that says “Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you.”

St Paul’s Cathedral’s Chapels

One of the things that make St Paul’s Cathedral so unique is its chapels. There are seven of them in total, each with its own history and significance.

st paul's cathedral

All Souls' Chapel: the Kitchener Memorial

Dedicated to the memory of Field Marshal Lord Kitchener, the All Souls’ Chapel was inaugurated in 1925. Lord Kitchener was the British Secretary of the State for War and his body was never recovered after he died at sea. He held the most effective recruitment campaign during World War I with a famous slogan, “Your Country Needs You.”

st paul's cathedral

St Dunstan's Chapel

If you're ever in the mood for a quiet moment of reflection, or if you need to pray for someone special, St Dunstan's Chapel is the perfect place to go. This small chapel is tucked away in the back of St Paul's Cathedral and is dedicated to St Dunstan, a Bishop of London who later became the Archbishop of Canterbury.

st paul's cathedral

The Chapel of St Michael and St George

Located off the south aisle, the Chapel of St Michael and St George was originally a consistory court. Cases of religion were heard here until it was renamed in 1906 and dedicated to the Order of St Michael and St George. The Order was founded in 1818 to honor those who performed great services for the nation overseas.

st paul's cathedral

The Chapel of St Erkenwald and St Ethelburga: The Middlesex Chapel

Home to the members of the Middlesex Regiment, the Chapel of St Erkenwald and St Ethelburga is located beneath the dome of the cathedral. It holds the most famous painting of the cathedrals, the Light of the World by William Holman Hunt.

st paul's cathedral

The American Memorial Chapel

Sitting at the east end behind the High Altar is the American Memorial Chapel, also known as the Jesus Chapel. During the Blitz in WW2, this part of the cathedral was destroyed. When the works of restoration began, it was decided that the chapel would be dedicated to the 28000 American soldiers that gave their lives in the UK during WW2.

st paul's cathedral

The Knights Bachelor Chapel

Also known as St Martin’s Chapel, the Chapel of the Imperial Society of Knights Bachelor was dedicated to Queen Elizabeth II in 2008. Decorated with English oak panels, the chapel has two cases that contain all the names of the Knights Bachelor and has been kept up to date till date since 1257. You can also see Queen Victoria’s sword with which she knighted many men during her reign.

st paul's cathedral

The Order of the British Empire Chapel

Also known as St Faith’s Chapel, the Order of the British Empire Chapel is situated at the east end of the crypt. Originally, the chapel used to be a parish church that was then destroyed in the Great Fire in 1666. After it was reconstructed, King George V instituted this chapel in 1917 to commemorate the contribution of the civilians in the war from 1914 to 1918. The chapel then became the spiritual home to the Order of the British Empire in 1960.

Oculus: An Eye Into St Paul’s Cathedral

st paul's cathedral

This fascinating 270-degree film experience outlines the cathedral's 1,400 years of history and is located in the former Treasury in the crypt. The film is divided into three films; Resurgam: I Will Rise Again, a short film showing the devastation caused by the Great Fire and the Blitz, Virtual Access: The Dome, a short film featuring the cathedral's domes, and Life of the Cathedral, history of St. Paul's Cathedral.

St Paul’s Cathedral Art Projects

St Paul’s Cathedral has always tried to inspire and illuminate Christian faith in all those who visit and provide a place for reflection, contemplation and meditation. In attempts to keep this channel of connection and communication open, St Paul’s Cathedral offers a Visual Arts Program that allows artists to express their faith in the form of art. 

In 2014, the cathedral invited Gerry Judah to commemorate the 100th anniversary of WW1 with an artwork in the nave. In 2009, Bill Viola created two altarpieces based on Mary and Martyrs that have been permanently installed at the end of the Quire aisles. In 2007, the cathedral decided to create a major public artwork by Martin Firrell called the Question Mark Inside that tried to answer the questions, “What makes life meaningful and purposeful?” and “What does St Paul's stand for in such a contemporary context?”

St Paul’s Cathedral’s Ministry and Functions

St. Paul’s Cathedral may be an iconic landmark of London and the highest point of the city, but aside from being a popular tourist attraction, it is a church first. In fact, there are four services conducted every weekday and five on Sundays, including services like Matins, Evening Prayer, Choral Evensong and Eucharist.

st paul's cathedral

Cathedral Chapter and Registrar

The seven members of the St Paul’s Cathedral’s Chapter form the principal governing body of the church. This includes the Dean, the Precentor, the Treasurer, the Chancellor and other canon and lay canon members. Apart from them, there is also a Registrar at the cathedral who is the principal administrator and lay officer. The Registrar assists the Chapter with its work and oversees staff and volunteers of more than 150 people.

st paul's cathedral

Organs

Akin to its grand architecture, St Paul's Cathedral has a Grand Organ built by a famous German organ builder, Bernard Smith in 1694. This centerpiece was placed on a screen in the quire and remained unaltered until the 1870s. Afterward, the organ underwent a major alteration with it being divided in half and placed against the pillars on either side of the quire. A second and similar mobile console was also later added to the lineup.

st paul's cathedral

Choir and Director of Music

The Choir resides in the cathedral itself for most of the year and includes 30 boy choristers, 8 probationers and 12 Vicars. The choir mostly follows a traditional routine, but also frequently participates in concerts and broadcasts, including critically-acclaimed recordings and world tours. Currently, Andrew Carwood is the Director of Music and is the first non-organist to lead the cathedral’s music since the 12th century.

St Paul’s Cathedral On Screen

Movies: Mission Impossible Fallout, Thor: The Dark World, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Sherlock Holmes, and many more.

TV Shows: Time Scanners, Inside…

All Your Questions Answered About St Paul’s Cathedral London

Q. How old is St Paul's Cathedral?

A. The oldest records of a church constructed for St Paul is from 604 AD. However, the current building of St Paul's Cathedral has only been standing since 1675 and is 347 years old.

Q. What can I see inside St Paul’s Cathedral London?

A. Visitors can marvel at the interiors and learn about the history of the cathedral inside St Paul’s Cathedral London. You can head to the dome to enjoy the panoramic views of the London city or make your way to the crypt to see the burial site of several prominent leaders.

Q. How big is St Paul's Cathedral Dome?

A. The diameter of St Paul's Cathedral from the outside is 34 m.

Q. How long does it take to cover St Paul’s Cathedral London?

A. You will need at least 2 hours to cover all the highlights of St Paul’s Cathedral London.

Q. Who is buried inside St Paul’s Cathedral London?

A. The crypt at St Paul’s Cathedral London buries several great men. This includes Sir Christopher Wren, and two greatest heroes of England - Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington.

Q. What is held at St Paul’s Cathedral London today?

A. St Paul’s Cathedral London holds over 200 memorials, a chapel, and a treasury.