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Things You May Not Know About St Pauls Cathedral

A cathedral dedicated to St Paul has stood at the highest point in the city for over 1,400 years.

Traditions have been observed here at St Paul’s Cathedral, and radical new ideas have found expression under the distinctive dome, which is frequently at the centre of national events. In many cases, these events left a physical record as well as echoes in the building’s intangible memory.

The current Cathedral, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, Britain’s most famous architect, is at least the fourth to have existed on the site. After its predecessor was destroyed in the Great Fire of London, it was rebuilt between 1675 and 1710, and services commenced in 1697.

After Henry VIII freed the Church of England from the jurisdiction of the Pope and the Crown took control of the church’s life in the sixteenth century, this was the first Cathedral to be built.

St Paul’s has a long and illustrious history, some of which is well-known and some which are less so.

Paul Robeson – 1958

Paul Robeson, one of the most important performers and activists of his time, sang at St Paul’s Cathedral on October 12, 1958. Paul Robeson was an American actor, singer, and political activist who had a long and illustrious career. On stage, he played Othello in London and New York, and on-screen, he starred in the 1936 film adaptation of the musical Showboat. He sought depth and dignity in his work as an actor, attempting to break free from the conventional roles often assigned to African-Americans.

He was a devout communist who supported the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War and was a frequent visitor to the Soviet Union – which he praised for their apparent ethnic tolerance. He was also a vocal supporter of the American Civil Rights Movement, refusing to perform in front of segregated audiences.

Because of his political ideas, he came under increased investigation from American authorities in the 1950s. In 1950, his passport was revoked, making it difficult for him to perform abroad.

Paul’s passport was returned after a long struggle because of his popularity in the United Kingdom. Concerts were organised throughout the United Kingdom, and Paul participated by singing over the phone from America. Robeson’s passport was returned to him in 1958, partly as a result of this effort, and he travelled to the United Kingdom.

On October 12th, 1958, Paul was invited to sing at Evensong at St Paul’s Cathedral by John Collins, a Canon of the Cathedral. Robeson’s attendance helped generate cash for the defence in the South African Treason Trials, in which 156 persons were accused of treason, including Nelson Mandela. Around 4,000 people attended the service, with many standing in the rear, while large groups gathered outside the Cathedral.

Paul performed a number of spiritual songs from the Eagle Lectern and read The Lesson for the first time in the cathedral. after the service, he was congratulated by well-wishers both inside and outside the Cathedral.

“The artist must take sides. He must elect to fight for freedom or slavery. I have made my choice. I had no alternative.” Paul Robeson 1937.

St Paul’s Wartime Near Miss – 1940

The dome of St Paul’s Cathedral has long been associated with World War II, standing high above the Blitz’s destruction and Sir Winston Churchill vowing that the Cathedral must be saved at all costs.

One bomb had been left unexploded 30 feet down in the road outside the main west end of the Cathedral after a midnight raid over the city. The bomb, which weighed 4,400 pounds (2,000 kilogrammes), was placed near a neighbouring gas main that had been damaged by the raid.

Knowing the bomb could not be left so close to St Paul’s, a team of Royal Engineers led by Lieutenant Robert Davies started to work digging it out, all the while not knowing if the massive weapon would detonate, unquestionably killing them and causing massive damage to the Cathedral.

The team laboured for three days to remove the bomb before loading it into the back of a truck and transporting it to Hackney Marshes. When it detonated on the Marshes, it caused a crater more than 100ft (30m) across, demonstrating its destructive strength.

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