Magnificent Churches of London
St. Paul's Cathedral
The crowning achievement of the English architect Sir Christopher Wren, St. Paul's Cathedral was built between 1675 and 1710 to replace the old St. Paul's, which was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. At 365 feet high, the dome of the cathedral is the world's second largest after St. Peter's in Rome, as spectacular from inside as outside.
Half national church and half national museum, the Westminster Abbey is most celebrated as the resting place of British monarchs, and as the setting for coronations and other great processions. It has the most glorious medieval architecture in London, and highly impressive tombs and monuments. Among its points of interest are Henry VII's Chapel (1503-9), which houses the king's tomb and Poet's Corner where many poets, including Chaucer and Byron, are buried.
Opened in 1884, the Brompton Oratory is a rich monument to the English Catholic revival of the late 19th century. Its façade and dome were added in the 1890s, and the interior has been gradually enriched ever since. This sumptuous Baroque church is adorned with many stunning treasures, many of which were transferred from Italian churches, such as the 17th-century marble figures of the 12 apostles sculpted by Giuseppe Mazzuoli and the Beautiful Lady Altar. The Oratory is famed for its excellent musical tradition.
St. Stephen Walbrook
Experts of architecture consider St. Stephen Walbrook, completed in 1672-9, to be the finest of Wren's work with its deep coffered dome and its ornate plasterwork. St. Stephen's light columned interior comes as a surprise after its plain exterior. The font cover and pulpit canopy are adorned with delicate sculpted figures in contrast with the austerity of Henry Moore's enormous white stone altar. Hanging on the north wall is The Matyrdom of St. Stephen by American painter Benjamin West, who became a Royal Academician.
St Martin-in-the-Fields is an Anglican church designed by James Gibbs and completed in 1726. In architectural terms, it was one of the most influential ever constructed; one rare feature of St. Martin's spacious interior is the royal box at gallery level on the left of the altar. Many prominent personalities were buried here, including Nell Gwynne, Charles II's mistress; William Hogarth, painter; and Robert Boyle, scientist. There is a good craft market outside; and concerts are held in the church regularly.
St. George's Bloomsbury
Designed by Wren's pupil Nicholas Hawksmoor, the slightly eccentric St. George's Bloomsbury, which was completed in 1726, was originally built as a place of worship for the prosperous residents of newly developed, fashionably Bloomsbury. The layered tower on this typically flamboyant Hawksmoor church is modeled on the tomb of King Mausolus and topped by a statue of George I.
Now on a traffic island on the east end of the Strand, St, Mary-le-Strand was built by James Gibbs in 1714-17 and consecrated in 1724. The lively external decorative detail of this ship-like church was inspired by the Baroque churches of Rome, where Gibbs studied. Featuring high windows and rich interior detailing, it was made solid enough to keep out the noise of the street.
See more articles about London: