Architecture of St Paul’s Cathedral

By Harshitha Jagathiesh

St Paul’s Cathedral in London is primarily recognized for its architectural style known as English Baroque, with influences from both Gothic and classical elements. 

Join us on a journey through this iconic London landmark’s breathtaking design and remarkable features. 

From its grandeur and intricate details to the genius of Sir Christopher Wren’s vision, we explore the architectural marvels that make St. Paul’s Cathedral a true masterpiece.

St Paul’s Cathedral Architectural Style

St. Paul’s Cathedral in London is a renowned architectural masterpiece that blends various styles, reflecting the vision of its principal architect, Sir Christopher Wren. 

The architectural style of St. Paul’s Cathedral is predominantly classified as English Baroque, which emerged during the late 17th century and early 18th century.

While primarily considered English Baroque, St. Paul’s Cathedral also incorporates elements of Gothic revivalism and other architectural influences of the time. 

Its unique blend of styles has made it an iconic symbol of London and a masterpiece of architectural design.

The English Baroque style, also known as Wren’s interpretation of Baroque, incorporates elements of classical architecture with some Gothic influences. 

Classical Elements

The cathedral’s overall design is based on classical principles, with a symmetrical and harmonious arrangement of spaces and forms. 

The prominent dome, inspired by the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, is a distinct feature of the classical influence.

Monumental Facade

The facade of St. Paul’s Cathedral is grand and imposing, with a central space featuring large columns, pediments, and decorative elements. 

The use of Corinthian order columns and the extensive use of stone add to the monumentality of the structure.

Towers and Spire

Towers and Spire
Image: Stpauls.co.uk

St. Paul’s Cathedral features two towers flanking the facade, each with a distinctive design. 

The towers rise above the roofline and create a sense of verticality. 

The iconic spire, crowned with a golden cross, adds to the visual impact of the cathedral.

Interior Details

The cathedral’s interior showcases ornate details and intricate craftsmanship. 

Wren designed the cathedral’s interior to have a sense of grandeur and openness, with a spacious central nave, aisles, and numerous chapels. 

Dec decorative plasterwork, stonework, and elaborate carvings contribute to the overall aesthetic.

St Paul’s Cathedral’s Architect

Sir Christopher Wren was the architect behind the construction of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. 

Wren was a highly influential English architect, mathematician, and scientist of the 17th century. 

He was commissioned to design and oversee the rebuilding of the cathedral after it was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. 

Wren’s St. Paul’s Cathedral design incorporated Gothic and classical architecture elements, creating a unique and harmonious blend. 

His meticulous attention to detail and innovative approach to structural design contributed to creating one of London’s most iconic landmarks.

The Design of St Paul’s Cathedral

The Design of St Paul’s Cathedral
Image: Stpauls.co.uk

The design of St. Paul’s Cathedral is a remarkable testament to the architectural genius of Sir Christopher Wren, who envisioned and oversaw its construction. 

St. Paul’s Cathedral primarily exemplifies English Baroque architecture, with classical, Gothic, and Renaissance influences. 

Wren’s design reflects a harmonious blend of these influences, resulting in a unique and distinctive structure.

Development of the Design

After the Great Fire of London in 1666, plans were initiated to rebuild St. Paul’s Cathedral. 

Architect Sir Christopher Wren was appointed to oversee the project.

Wren explored various design options, including Gothic and classical styles, before settling on a unique blend of English Baroque architecture.

He incorporated Renaissance and ancient Roman architecture elements, taking inspiration from structures like St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Final Design

Sir Christopher Wren’s final design for St. Paul’s Cathedral featured a monumental dome as its centerpiece. 

Renaissance and classical architectural principles influenced this.

The dome was supported by eight massive piers, creating a distinctive silhouette on the London skyline.

Wren envisioned a symmetrical façade, with columns, pilasters, and pediments providing a sense of order and harmony.

Structural Engineering

Structural Engineering
Image: Stpauls.co.uk

 Wren collaborated with structural engineer Robert Hooke to ensure the stability and structural integrity of the cathedral.

The dome, a technical marvel of its time, employed a double-shell construction, reducing the weight and creating a lighter, more durable structure.

Using internal iron chains and timber reinforcement helped distribute the weight and provide additional support.

Designers, Craftsmen and Builders

A team of skilled craftsmen and builders worked under Wren’s supervision to bring his design to life.

Stone masons meticulously carved intricate details and sculpted decorative elements for the façade and interior.

Master craftsmen were responsible for the ornate woodwork, including the intricate carvings and paneling throughout the cathedral.

Artists and glassmakers created the stained windows, contributing to the cathedral’s visual splendor.

St Paul’s Cathedral’s Exterior

St. Paul’s Cathedral boasts a magnificent exterior that showcases the grandeur and architectural brilliance of the structure. 

The exterior of St. Paul’s Cathedral exudes a sense of majesty, combining classical architectural elements with intricate detailing. 

Its impressive dome, elegant façade, and meticulous craftsmanship make it an architectural marvel and a beloved symbol of London’s skyline.

Here are some key features of the cathedral’s exterior:

Dome

The dominant feature of the exterior is the awe-inspiring dome, which has become an iconic symbol of the cathedral and the city of London. 

Rising to a height of 365 feet (111 meters), it is one of the largest domes in the world. 

The dome comprises three shells: the outer copper dome, the middle brick cone, and the inner dome made of timber.

Façade 

The façade of St. Paul’s Cathedral exhibits a sense of balance, proportion, and classical influence. 

It is adorned with columns, pilasters, and pediments, contributing to its grand and harmonious appearance. 

The west front, facing Ludgate Hill, features a central entrance flanked by two towers known as the West Towers. 

These towers add vertical emphasis and enhance the visual impact of the cathedral.

Portico

The main entrance to the cathedral is accessed through a portico with a large arched doorway. 

The portico is supported by six Corinthian columns, which create a sense of grandeur and welcome visitors into the sacred space of the cathedral.

Carvings and Sculptures

The exterior of St. Paul’s Cathedral is adorned with intricate carvings and sculptures that depict religious and historical figures, biblical scenes, and decorative motifs.

These sculptures, crafted by skilled artisans, add detail and beauty to the façade.

Spire and Cross

Atop the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral is a golden spire and a large cross, which act as prominent visual markers. 

The spire reaches a height of 278 feet (85 meters) and adds a touch of elegance to the cathedral’s silhouette.

St Paul’s Cathedral’s Interior

The interior of St. Paul’s Cathedral is a magnificent space that reflects the grandeur and craftsmanship of its architectural design. 

The interior of St. Paul’s Cathedral combines awe-inspiring architecture, ornate decorations, and a sense of sacredness. 

It provides a serene and contemplative environment for worship, reflection, and appreciation of its historical and artistic significance.

Here are some notable features of the cathedral’s interior:

Nave and Aisles

The central nave of St. Paul’s Cathedral is a vast and spacious area flanked by side aisles.

The nave stretches from the entrance to the dome, creating a sense of grandeur and openness.

The high, vaulted ceiling, with its intricate plasterwork and decorative details, adds to the space’s sense of verticality and splendor.

Dome

The dome is a prominent feature of the cathedral’s interior. It rises above the central crossing, creating a visually stunning focal point.

The dome’s interior is adorned with decorative paintings, including the famous frescoes by Sir James Thornhill. 

These paintings depict scenes from the life of St. Paul and other biblical narratives.

Whispering Gallery

Visitors can climb to the Whispering Gallery, located within the dome. 

This circular gallery offers stunning interior views and allows for an acoustic phenomenon where whispers can be heard clearly on the opposite side of the gallery.

Chapels and Shrines

St. Paul’s Cathedral houses several chapels and shrines dedicated to various saints and notable figures.

The American Memorial Chapel on the cathedral’s east end commemorates the American soldiers who lost their lives during World War II.

The Chapel of St. Michael and St. George honors the Order of St. Michael and St. George, an order of chivalry.

Crypt

Crypt
Image: Stpauls.co.uk

Beneath the cathedral lies the crypt, an underground space that houses various tombs, memorials, and galleries.

Notable figures buried in the crypt include Sir Christopher Wren, Admiral Lord Nelson, and the Duke of Wellington.


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FAQs

1. What are the architectural features of St Paul’s Cathedral?

St. Paul’s Cathedral showcases remarkable architectural features, including a grand dome, classical and Gothic influences, symmetrical façades, and ornate carvings. 

The dome, a masterpiece of engineering, dominates the skyline. 

The cathedral combines elements of English Baroque with Renaissance and Roman architecture. 

2. What architectural design influenced St Paul’s Cathedral?

St. Paul’s Cathedral architecture in London drew inspiration from various architectural designs. 

The primary influences on its design were English Baroque, Renaissance, and classical Roman architecture. 

The cathedral’s grand dome, reminiscent of Roman Roman structures like the Pantheon, showcases its classical influence. 

The symmetrical façades, columns, pilasters, and pediments reflect Renaissance principles. 

Blending these styles created a unique and harmonious architectural design that made St. Paul’s Cathedral an iconic masterpiece.

3. What were some of the key architectural features of cathedrals?

Cathedrals, as monumental religious structures, boast several key architectural features.

For example, the St Pauls Cathedral boasts soaring vaulted ceilings in the form of ribbed vaults, which create a sense of height and grandeur. 

It also features pointed arches, characteristic of Gothic architecture, and stained glass windows illuminating the interior with vibrant colors.

4. What is the symbolism of St Paul’s Cathedral?

St. Paul’s Cathedral holds significant symbolism. Its grandeur represents London’s resilience and cultural heritage. 

The dome symbolizes aspirations and the spiritual connection between heaven and earth. 

The cathedral’s central position embodies its role as the city’s heart. 

The intricate carvings and artwork convey religious narratives and historical events.

Are you planning to visit St Paul’s Cathedral? 

Here is a brief of all the St Paul’s Cathedral tickets to help you plan your visit.

Entry ticket: This simple entry ticket offer skip the line benefit and lets you enjoy a self-guided tour around the Cathedral. 
Buy This Ticket | Learn More

St Paul’s Cathedral + Westminster Abbey: Get the combination ticket to enter the most famous Churches in London. 
Buy This Combo | Learn More

St Paul’s Cathedral + Thames River Cruise: With this combo, you can tour the Cathedral and then enjoy a river cruise on the Thames. 
Buy This Combo | Learn More

London Pass: Visit more than 85 attractions within 2 to 10 days. You do not have to purchase individual entry tickets and get to save about 50% on admission tickets.
Buy This Pass | Learn More

Go City London Explorer Pass: With this pass, you can visit St Paul’s Cathedral and a choice of 2 to 6 attractions in London. 
Buy This Pass | Learn More

Featured Image: STpauls.co.uk

Harshita
About the author

Harshitha’s heart lies where greeny mountains meet stretches of beach. She believes getting lost is the best way to explore