Tuesday, July 14, 2009

St Paul's Cathedral - London

The 2000 Millennium pedestrian bridge crosses the Thames and leads dramatically to St. Paul's, which dominates the skyline.

Following the Great Fire of 1666, Christopher Wren oversaw the rebuilding of more than 50 churches, but his undisputed masterpiece is St Paul's Cathedral (Anglican), London's largest and most famous church. St Paul's, situated on the highest point of land in London, is the seat of the Bishop of London. Wren was 43 years old when the foundation stone was laid in 1677 and 79 years old when it was completed. Wren's design replaced a beloved medieval cathedral (lost in the fire of 1666) that had been built atop an ancient Roman temple to Diana, goddess of the hunt.

Wren had visited Paris and was influenced by François Mansart’s masterpiece Val-de-Grâce, which included a dome. Many were critical of Wren's design for St Paul's, stating that the dome bore too strong a resemblance to St Peter's Basilica in Rome (completed in 1626), thus being too Catholic. It is reported that Wren wept when his first plan was rejected, and Wren was forced to accommodate dozens of changes to his original plan. The frescoes on the Great Dome above the crossing and the mosaics on the choir ceiling (not completed until 1895) are particularly notable. There was damage to the cathedral during WWII, and most of the area surrounding St Paul's has been rebuilt with modern buildings.

This photo reveals the stunning, rich decorative details of St Paul's interior and the magnificent baldachin over the altar. Click to enlarge.

Most people will recognize St Paul's from the televised wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana (1981), which was watched by 750 million people. More mature visitors might recall that Winston Churchill's funeral took place here in 1965.

St Paul's contains the tombs and memorials of Lord Nelson, Florence Nightingale, John Donne and T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), among many others.

Before you take on the celebrated climb to the top of the dome (365-ft tall), consider that your trek will include 628 steps, and you'll pay extra for the privilege. Unlike most cathedrals of the world, there is an admission charge to visit St Paul's (£11 per adult, and that does not include a guidebook or tour, both of which are extra), except Sundays, when visitors may attend a worship service. St Paul's opens to visitors Mon-Sat at 8:30 a.m., and the last entry ticket is sold at 4 p.m.

St. Paul's is commemorating the 200th anniversary of the death of Joseph Haydn with a series of July 2009 orchestral Eucharists. On Sunday, July 12, at 11 a.m., Haydn's Lord Nelson Mass will be performed by St. Paul's Cathedral Choir and the City of London Sinfonia. Admission is free. Following the orchestral Eucharist is an Evensong at 3:15 p.m., a free organ recital at 4:45 p.m. (Timothy Wakerell, Sub-Organist of St Paul's; music of Bach and Reger), and an evening service at 6:00 p.m.

Jeremiah Clarke, whose Trumpet Voluntary accompanies countless wedding processions, was appointed organist here in 1699.

Grinling Gibbons, master wood carver to King George I, was employed by Sir Christopher Wren to work on St Paul's Cathedral. His choir stalls in St Paul’s are living testaments to this master craftsman of the woodcarver’s art.

There is both a café and full restaurant located in the lower level of the cathedral.

In the photo below, details of the West Front and one of the towers added by Wren in 1707, when he was 75 years old.

Garth Edmunson’s TOCCATA ON VOM HIMMEL HOCH performed by organist Andrew Lucas, with a superb slide show of the interors of St Paul’s Cathedral (warning: the ending is wicked loud and powerful).

And from the 2002 Golden Jubilee Service for Queen Elizabeth II, whose coronation was in 1952. The boy’s choir performs John Rutter’s FOR THE BEAUTY OF THE EARTH.

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