St. Paul’s is a grand, late Renaissance cathedral, designed by Christopher Wren. It is an impressive building, but I was initially drawn to it more for its symbolic qualities than for its architectural values. It was built in the late 17th and early 18th century and was completed in 1708, following the Great Fire of London in 1666, which destroyed the previous St. Paul’s. So, while it doesn’t fall within the time period we are studying, it’s a building that is very important to Britain’s artistic and political history.
It has a strong symbolic value in London because it was one of the few buildings to (remarkably) survive the German bombing during World War II. This is a testament to the strength of the building’s design. The famous picture of the cathedral standing intact while flames from German bombing lick up around it is a powerful image representing British tenacity during the Battle of Britain.
Perhaps the most remarkable feature of the building is its massive dome. The dome is actually composed in three parts: the outer dome, which is visible from the exterior of the cathedral (see picture below) is purely ornamental and has no structural purpose. Visible from the interior of the building is a different dome, which is intended to provide balance to the interior design. Between these two domes is a structural cone which supports the whole dome structure.
The west side of the cathedral (shown in the picture below) demonstrates the neo-Classicism that was typical of the Renaissance. The facade, complete with Corinthian columns, references Ancient Rome, while the dome is directly influenced by St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
The use of the two levels of columns in the front is interesting to me. It gives a groundedness and weight to the front that is juxtaposed with the two towers flanking the facade and the dome, which give the building a sense of reaching up.