5 facts about St Paul's Cathedral that you need to know

St Paul's Cathedral at sunset
St Paul's Cathedral is built atop Ludgate Hill, the highest natural point in the City of London | Image: Shutterstock

As an icon of the London skyline, St Paul’s Cathedral has proudly looked over the city for hundreds of years. Designed by prolific architect Sir Christopher Wren between 1675 and 1710, St Paul’s has seen the capital city through kings, queens, wars, peace, and even plagues. Behind the beautiful facade of baroque and gothic architecture lies much of the history of London and even some of its darkest secrets.

Here are five interesting facts about St Paul’s Cathedral that you probably didn’t know.

1. Location, location, location

The cathedral itself is located at Ludgate Hill, the highest natural part in the City of London. At the time of its completion, the cathedral was one of the largest buildings in the medieval world. This, combined with its elevated position, would have made St Paul’s loom intimidatingly over the rest of the city.

2. It’s ancient

The location of St Paul’s has been used for the worship of deities for millennia. When first built, the site was used by the Romans inhabiting Londinium as a temple to the goddess Diana. It’s rumoured that it was a pagan place of worship for the local Britons even before that!

As Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire, many of the temples to the old gods were replaced with chapels and churches to Christ. The location at St Paul's, however, wouldn’t remain Christian for long. The invasion and occupation of London by the Vikings saw the city return to pagan worship.

3. It’s not the first St Paul’s

The current structure is actually the fifth St Paul’s Cathedral to be placed at the site. The fourth St Paul’s Cathedral had fallen into severe disrepair since the Reformation of Tudor England and the later English Civil war. Previous cathedrals erected on the site were met with worse fates, including Viking destruction and multiple fires.

Christopher Wren had been brought in as a consultant on the restoration of the fourth cathedral, which would have been a monumental undertaking. Suggesting instead that the dilapidated building be completely torn down so that they could start anew, Wren wouldn’t have to wait long for his vision to come to life. In 1666, the Great Fire of London ripped through the city and burned anything that had remained of the previous wooden building to the ground.

4. It’s kept together by its crypts

As London is built on the banks of the large River Thames, the soft and marshy clay ground of the city was not suitable for the construction of such a large building. In order to stop the stone cathedral from sinking under its own weight, Wren had to build an extensive foundation to compensate.

Now filled with kings and historically pivotal people, the large crypts under the cathedral serve a much bigger purpose than simply housing the dead.

5. It’s been bombed by both Germans and Brits

The Luftwaffe’s Blitz of London destroyed large swathes of the city, including the Tower of London, the Houses of Parliament, and even Buckingham Palace. St Paul’s was also not immune to the devastating attacks. However, it experienced minimal damage when its dome was pierced by a German bomb. This wasn’t the first time that St Paul’s had been the victim of a bomb threat.

On 8th May 1913, an explosive device was discovered next to the Bishop’s Throne in St Paul’s. Wrapped in brown paper and the pages from a Suffragette’s pamphlet, the bomb was found by a cleaner who heard a ticking noise whilst tidying around the throne. The bomb, a small device inside a Keen’s Mustard tin, was placed in a bucket of water and taken to the nearest police station for further investigation.

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