Friday, November 20, 2015

St. Paul's Cathedral, now and then.

St. Paul's in the late XIX century.

Sir Christopher Wren's St. Paul's Cathedral in London is indeed a fine building, sometimes its beauty is misunderstood. It is also true that its arrangement (and surroundings) changed endlessly since its creation. Many will realise that the current High Altar setting can't be contemporary to Wren's project. Of course there used to be a normal high Anglican altar in the Cathedral before the Oxford movement; a simple altar, covered in a Laudian frontal, with brass cross and candlesticks and surrounded by a wooden altar rail, in the post-Caroline Divine, high church fashion very popular at that time.

The quire and chancel at St. Paul's before 1888. (XVIII century engraving).

Many will believe that the current baldacchino is the fruit of the Oxford Movement or a Victorian extravaganza. It is not even so. 
In the second half of the nineteenth century, architect Thomas Garner designed a new chancel, not Victorian, but pretty much in the same style of the Neo-Classical Cathedral (sorry to say, that's not Baroque).

Garner and Bodley's new High Altar and reredos.

Garner's altar and reredos were finished on St. Paul's day, 1888. The decoration of the reredos by Bodley, contained a fine crucifix, surrounded by scenes from the Calvary, the Blessed Virgin Mary, other biblical scenes and was topped with a sculpture of the risen Christ. The reredos was enclosed in two wings linking the altar to the quire, the area behind the altar became what is now known as "Jesus Chapel".

The High Altar with a historical altar frontal still in use.

Bodley's crucifix, once at the centre of the reredos.

Unfortunately the altar and reredos were highly damaged in the WWII (1940), during the Nazi bombings. 
The chancel after the bombings (1940).

Hence after the war, a new altar was made, enclosed in a Baldacchino - resembling Wren's original project for the sanctuary. I do not believe it is particularly refined, it is perhaps that of the three that has less continuity with the rest of the building, but I leave my readers to have their own opinions, feel free to decide!
The chancel with the "new" setting.

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