St Paul’s Cathedral

The medieval Old St Paul’s Cathedral which burnt in the Great Fire of London was the fourth building to be destroyed by the flames – the first in 961, the second in 1087 and the third in 1137.

The fourth cathedral was completed in 1221. It lost its wooden spire in 1561 and is therefore depicted spireless in all the great panoramas of the seventeenth century including Hollar’s Prospect of London and Westminster.

The shocking state of disrepair of St Paul’s Cathedral in the early years of the seventeenth century led John Gympkin to devise and paint a large and complex diptych about St Paul’s, naming, shaming and demanding funds, all in one bold swoop. Old St Paul’s: The Society of Antiquaries’ Diptych, 1616 by Pamela Tudor-Craig.

A few decades later St Paul’s was destroyed in the Great Fire of London and rebuilt by Christopher Wren. His masterpiece has survived to our day. It dominates Charles Robert Cockerell’s Tribute to Sir Christopher Wren and all cityscapes involving the City of London: Barker’s Panorama of London from the Roof of the Albion Mills or The ‘Rhinebeck’ Panorama of London.

With the Second World War it became a symbol of London’s resilience and survival when it was photographed by Herbert Mason from the roof of the Daily Mail after a night of very heavy bombing. This image and its interpretation of hope have endured despite the fact that St Paul’s was in fact damaged by bombs in two places as is clear from: The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps 1939–45. The damage, fortunately, was not structural and it is surprising to see St Paul’s almost completely surrounded by buildings damaged beyond repair in Devastated London; the Bombed City as seen from a Barrage Balloon.

The eye is still drawn to St Paul’s in Andrew Ingamells’ Two Thousand Years of London colour screenprint which recalls Charles Cockerell’s homage to Christopher Wren above.


Detail from The 'Rhinebeck' Panorama