Posted by Richard Rawlinson
It may be the 300th anniversary of the completion of Sir Christopher Wren’s St Paul’s Cathedral but 2011 will be remembered as the year the great building closed to the public for the first time since the Blitz due to health and safety fears after anti-capitalist protesters set up camp on its doorstep.
I’m not sure how many funeral plans were put on ice due to the protesters but, as the nation’s church, St Paul’s has been a focal point for the remembrance of the departed, both famous and anonymous.
Margaret Thatcher is to receive the accolade of a State funeral at St Paul’s when she reaches the end of her days – the first Prime Minister since Sir Winston Churchill to be afforded such an honour. In 1965, the dramatic images of Churchill’s coffin, draped in the Union Jack, were broadcast to millions around the globe.
There have also been services marking the contributions made by ordinary men and women involved in conflicts in the Falklands, the Gulf and Northern Ireland. On another occasion, a large crowd gathered following the terrorist attacks on New York on 11 September 2001, as London expressed its solidarity at a time of grief. At the service of remembrance following the terrorist bombings in London in July 2005, young people representing different faith communities lit candles as a shared sign of hope.
Over 90 years after the opening of Wren’s new cathedral, it hosted the funeral service of Admiral Lord Nelson in 1806. After his death at the Battle of Trafalgar, his body was preserved in a keg of naval brandy before burial in the Crypt. His final resting place is immediately under the centre of the Dome of St Paul’s.
In 1852, a million people watched the Duke of Wellington’s funeral procession to St Paul’s. The building was closed for almost six weeks while extra tiers of seating and grandstands were erected in the aisles and transepts in preparation for the 13,000 attending.
Imagine the uproar if the building was closed for any length of time to prepare for Maggie’s send off.