Simanaitis Says

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I WAS STROLLING with the world’s first Consulting Detective and his able chronicler past St. Paul’s Cathedral; this, encouraged by Stephen Browning’s On the Trail of Sherlock Holmes. Browning describes briefly, “St Paul’s has been on this site for 1400 years and had been built and rebuilt five times.” This clearly suggests gleaning tidbits offered here in Parts 1 and 2 today and tomorrow.

Sherlockian Connections.  Browning writes, “Returning to the story of The Red-headed League, it was at 17 King Edward Street, near St Paul’s, that the affronted Mr Jabez Wilson seeks in vain for the offices of his supposed employers but finds at the address ‘a manufactory of artificial kneecaps.’ ”

You may recall that Wilson’s employment duping was merely a front for evil doers tunneling into a nearby bank vault. The tale was also noted here at SimanaitisSays as an example of “Holmes Humor.” 

“Also,” Browning relates, “in the final stages of The Sign of Four, as Holmes, Watson and Jones track down the Aurora along the River Thames past St Paul’s, we find Watson in a poetic mode: ‘As we passed the City, the last rays of the sun were gilding the cross on the summit of St Paul’s.’ ”

Image of St Paul’s by Mark Fosh from Wikipedia.

High Point of the City. Wikipedia notes that the Cathedral Church of St Paul the Apostle “is on Ludgate Hill at the highest point of the City of London.” 

By the way, note that “The City” is essentially ceremonial and “constituted most of London from its settlement by the Romans in the 1st century AD to the Middle Ages, but the modern area London had since grown far beyond….”

Indeed, St Paul’s Churchyard is at an elevation of 52 ft. The Cathedral’s dome height is 278 ft. Westerham Heights, at the southern tip of today’s metropolitan London, has an elevation of 804 ft.

A Blazing Heritage. Browning writes, “The task of designing the present structure was assigned to Sir Christopher Wren in 1669—he had already begun the task of replacing over fifty churches destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666.” 

Old St Paul’s before 1561, as depicted by Anton van den Wyngaerde, 1525–1571, from Wikipedia.

Old St Paul’s, the one destroyed in 1666, was already the fourth on Ludgate Hill. Maybe one was in evidence as early as 314 AD, when, Wikipedia notes, “London is said to have sent 2 delegates to the Council of Arles.” 

Other notable cathedral conflagrations occurred on-site in 962 and 1087, the latter recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

Wren’s Variations. Some five years before the Great Fire, Sir Christopher Wren had already been involved in repairing Old St Paul’s. 

Sir Christopher Wren, 1632–1723, English architect, anatomist, geometer, mathematician/physicist. Portrait by Godfrey Kneller, 1711, from Wikipedia. 

Wren’s work with the new St Paul’s involved some 36 years, during which he made a First Model, a Great Model, and later variations. Wikipedia notes, “Finally, in 1711 the cathedral was declared complete, and Wren was paid the half of his salary that, in the hope of accelerating progress, Parliament had withheld for 14 years since 1697.”

The River Thames with St. Paul’s Cathedral on Lord Mayor’s Day, detail, by Giovanni Antonio Canal, il Canaletto. Image from Ablakok from Wikipedia.

Wren’s Dome. Unlike Michelangelo’s 16th-century design for the dome of St Peter’s Basilica (and like the U.S. Capitol Building’s), Wren didn’t choose a hemisphere, he chose a catenary. 

St Paul’s Engraving by Samuel Wale and John Gwynn (1755). Image from Wikipedia.

As described by Wikipedia, “In physics and geometry, a catenary is the curve that an idealized hanging chain or cable assumes under its own weight when supported only at its ends in a uniform gravitational field.” 

Wikipedia observes that one benefit is that a catenary’s forces do not result in bending moments. See “The Perfect Dome,” American Scientist, May-June 2011.

There’s Always a Critic. Wikipedia reports, “Opinions of Wren’s cathedral differed, with some loving it: ‘Without, within, below, above, the eye / Is filled with unrestrained delight,’ while others hated it: ‘There was an air of Popery about the gilded capitals, the heavy arches … They were unfamiliar, un-English….’ ”

Gad. Popery?? Remember this was only some 160 years since Henry VIII had nationalized the monasteries.

Tomorrow in Part 2, our continued gleanings of St Paul’s tidbits catch up with modern times: Suffragette attacks, the Blitz, Charles and Diana’s nups—and even girls in the Cathedral Choir. By the way, did you know that the Bishop of London is Sarah Mullally, whose appointment was announced in December 2017 and whose enthronement took place in May 2018. The times, they surely change. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2022 

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