St Paul’s Cathedral has been here for over 1,400 years. It has been built and rebuilt five times, and always its main purpose has been as a
place of worship and prayer.
St Paul's, with its world-famous dome, is an iconic feature of the London skyline. Step inside and you can enjoy the Cathedral's awe-inspiring
interior, and uncover fascinating stories about its history.
Learning & Faith
Education is a core part of the Cathedral's work, delivered through a variety of events by St Paul's Forum, St Paul's Institute and the
Schools & Families department.
History & Collections
For more than 1,400 years, a Cathedral dedicated to St Paul has stood at the highest point in the City. The present Cathedral is the
masterpiece of Britain's most famous architect Sir Christopher Wren.
Behind the scenes, the cost of caring for St Paul's and continuing to deliver our central ministry and work is enormous and the generosity of
our supporters is critical.
Widely considered to be one of the world’s most beautiful buildings and a powerful symbol of the splendour of London, St Paul’s Cathedral is a
breathtaking events venue.
The dome design was radically modified even as it was being built – something unconscionable in contemporary architectural practice. He sloped the inner wall of the drum at the
base of the dome just before work began above the crossing arches in 1696 and revised the upper part of the dome in 1702, by introducing a
concealed brick cone to support a much larger stone lantern. Then he used stone and wooden models to revise the lantern when work was about
to start in 1707.
Wren improvised by testing out parts of the design, including the dome, with small and full-sized models
in timber, plaster and stone.
Wren designed the Cathedral in stages between 1675 and 1710. He relied on a contractual system that
allowed him to leave detailed design-work until construction was about start in any given area. The most significant change was in 1685–87,
when he added a two-storey western body behind the portico and raised full-height exterior ‘screen walls’ above the aisles.
The modus operandi of the Wren office has been revealed.Wren himself was unrivalled in his time as
an architectural draughtsman, but fewer than 20 of the drawings in the St Paul’s Collection are entirely in his hand. Instead Wren guided
his assistants in pencil and encouraged talent in the drawing office by allowing older, more experienced masons and draughtsmen to teach
the new recruits.
The architect Nicholas Hawksmoor drew more of the surviving designs than anyone else. We can now
date changes to the design from the hands of draughtsmen, like Hawksmoor, who joined the office as an apprentice in about 1685. Another
valued assistant was the French engraver, Simon Gribelin, who started at the same time and was highly skilled in line and wash drawings.
Dr Gordon Higgott said: "Wren had an extraordinary ability to express three-dimensional forms on paper purely through the use of line. His
complete grasp of complex architectural relationships, and his natural talent for delegating design-work to assistants, enabled him to remodel
the dome in a series of trial-and-error studies between 1685 and 1708.”
Oliver Caroe, the Cathedral’s current Surveyor to the Fabric (the title held by Wren himself) added: "Taken at face value, Sir Christopher Wren
took risks which would be unconscionable in architectural practice today. What Dr Higgott has demonstrated is that Wren was not only an
exceptional master of the science and craft of architectural design, he also commanded almost complete control of the entire construction
process. Thus the risks he encountered - and originated - were well matched by his extraordinary talents.”
St Paul’s is the only great cathedral of the early modern era to have been designed and completed by a single architect. It is also an
exceptionally well-documented historic building. All the building accounts, contracts, and records of the Rebuilding Commission survive, along
with about 290 original design drawings. It used to be thought that Wren designed the whole building up to the colonnade of the dome in 1675
and only made changes to the outer dome, lantern and western towers after about 1700. However, research on Wren’s office over the past decade
has identified the hands of most of the draughtsmen working at St Paul’s and helped establish dates, or date-ranges, for almost every drawing.
Catherine Angerson, the Cathedral’s former Archivist, who project-managed the research, said: "It has been great to work
with Dr Higgott and London Metropolitan Archives to make these amazing drawings available to the public online. They are the Cathedral
Archive’s most important and requested architectural drawings and they should be used by scholars, students and anyone interested in how St
Paul’s was designed and built.”
Images: Drawing #1: Composite section, plan and elevation of two versions of a 16-bay dome, developed from the
‘Revised design’, drawn by Hawksmoor, c.1690
Drawing #2: Engraving of the east-west section, probably Simon Gribelin, c.1687-1688 annotated by Hawksmoor
Drawing #3: Section of the dome with variant half sections above the internal peristyle, the left one in pink drawn probably by Wren,
c.1702-03, the main drawing by William Dickinson, c.1701-02
Drawing #4: Complete plan of the church-floor paving. Drawn by William Dickinson, c.1709-10