1560 - 1711

Today at the Cathedral View More
8:00am Holy Communion
10:15am Choral Mattins
11:30am Sung Eucharist
3:15pm Choral Evensong
4:45pm Sunday Organ Recital - Jillian Gardner
6:00pm Eucharist

1560 - 1711

Reformation to Conflagration | A New Cathedral for London

1560–1666: Reformation to Conflagration
The new form of worship continued at St Paul’s in the wake of the Reformation, with the choir singing in English instead of Latin at Mattins and Evensong according to the new Book of Common Prayer. The Cathedral already had a long history as a place of commemoration and some of the grandest tombs were still to be added to the building in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. One of the most remarkable monuments from this period still survives, that of John Donne (1572–1631), the poet and clergyman who, after a raffish youth, went on to become Dean of St Pauls from 1621 until his death. During his lifetime, St Paul's and Paul's Cross were leading centres of a newly confident and thriving Protestant culture in England.

The physical destruction wrought during the Reformation had only been the start of a series of threats to the fabric. In June 1561 lightning struck the Cathedral spire igniting a fire which destroyed the steeple and roofs, the heat and falling timbers causing such damage to the Cathedral structure that it would never fully recover. Plans were made for restoration and the architect Inigo Jones (1573–1652) was engaged to carry out work in 1633, but his work was left incomplete at the outbreak of the English Civil War in 1642. Parliamentary forces took control of the Cathedral and its Dean and Chapter dissolved; the Lady Chapel became a large preaching auditorium, while the vast nave was used as a cavalry barracks with, at one point, 800 horses stabled inside.

By the 1650s the building was in a serious state of disrepair and it was only after the Restoration in 1660 of King Charles II (1630–1685) that repair was once again considered in earnest as an architectural proclamation of the restored Church of England and the monarchy. Leading architects wrestled with the how to restore the medieval structure and were often in disagreement. Inspired by his travels in France and his knowledge of Italian architecture, Christopher Wren (1632–1732) proposed the addition of a dome to the building, a plan agreed upon in August 1666. Only a week later The Great Fire of London was kindled in Pudding Lane, reaching St Paul’s in two days. The wooden scaffolding contributed to the spread of the flames around the Cathedral and the high vaults fell, smashing into the crypt, where flames, fuelled by thousands of books stored there in vaults leased to printers and booksellers, put the structure beyond hope of rescue.

1666–1711: A new Cathedral for London
Sir Christopher Wren was a brilliant scientist and mathematician and Britain’s most famous architect. The building he designed to replace the pre-Fire Cathedral is his masterpiece. Nine years of planning were required to ensure that the new design would meet the requirements of a working cathedral; the quire was to be the main focus for liturgical activity, a Morning Chapel was required for Morning Prayer, vestries were needed for the clergy to robe, a treasury for the church plate, a home had to be planned for the enormous organ, bell towers were essential, and the interior had to be fitted for the grandest of occasions and ceremonies. The building which Wren delivered in thirty five years fulfilled all these needs and provided a symbol for the Church of England, the renewed capital city, and the emerging empire.

Construction commenced in 1675: the process involved many highly skilled draughtsmen and craftsmen and was pursued in phases, largely dependent on the availability of funding and materials. Portland stone predominated but other types of stone were necessary as well as bricks, iron and wood. All of the building accounts, contracts and records of the rebuilding commission survive, and many original drawings. A detailed history of the design of the cathedral can be found in the online Wren Office Drawings catalogue written by Dr Gordon Higgott (2012). Christopher Wren lived to see the building completed: the last stone of the Cathedral’s structure was laid on 26 October 1708 by two sons named after their fathers, Christopher Wren junior and Edward Strong (the son of master mason). The first service had already been held in 1697 – a Thanksgiving for the Peace between England and France.