London's St. Paul's Cathedral celebrates 300 years

AP News
Posted: Jun 21, 2011 9:59 AM
London's St. Paul's Cathedral celebrates 300 years

St. Paul's Cathedral celebrated its 300th anniversary and the completion of a 15-year restoration project on Tuesday, with Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip among the congregation.

The service marked three centuries since Sir Christopher Wren's masterpiece in London opened to the public.

It has been the setting for many great occasions, including the funerals of Adm. Horatio Nelson and Winston Churchill, and the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

The enduring image of the cathedral is of the great dome looming intact, wreathed in smoke from German bombing in December 1940.

Restoration workers cleaned the church's structure and repaired damage left over from World War II, at a cost of 40 million pounds ($65 million). Soot and grime were carefully washed from the exterior, decayed mortar in the stonework was replaced and repairing a crack in the dome apparently made by a World War II bomb blast.

"This great building is now in a sound state, and probably looks better than at any time since its completion in 1711," said Martin Stancliffe, who oversaw the project and holds the title of Surveyor to the Fabric.

"I used to think that it was rather more like a railway station than a great cathedral. it was very very dirty, it was very unkempt, and that made it a very kind of gloomy and disappointing building to work with."

More than a hundred years ago, Queen Victoria had complained that the interior was "most dreary, dingy and undevotional." In response, the building was lavishly decorated with mosaics.

At 300, St. Paul's remains one of England's newer cathedrals, the fourth to stand on the site in London's financial district. It replaced a medieval building destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666.

The footprint of the earlier churches was exposed and has been incorporated into a new garden.

Wren was commissioned to design the building in 1668. Construction, funded by a tax on coal, began in 1675, and the first service was held in the incomplete structure on Dec. 2, 1697.

On Wren's tomb in the cathedral, an inscription in Latin says: "If you seek his monument, look around you."

Cathedral officials are now turning their attention to the Chapter House, which was rebuilt after a direct hit during the war but now requires restoration and upgrading. That work is estimated to cost 4.5 million pounds.