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St Paul's: London's iconic cathedral

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

St Paul's Cathedral, where Margaret Thatcher's funeral is being held on Wednesday, has hosted momentous national events over the centuries and is one of the most recognised buildings in London.

Rising 366 feet (112 metres) above the British capital, Christopher Wren's masterpiece is at least the fourth to have stood on the site.

Some of Britain's greatest heroes are entombed inside, while royal weddings, state funerals, memorials and celebrations have all taken place underneath its giant dome.

"St Paul's is London's cathedral and embodies the spiritual life and heritage of the British people," the Anglican Church says.

Its last great funeral was that of wartime prime minister Winston Churchill in 1965, the last of the few British subjects afforded a state funeral.

Previous war heroes Horatio Nelson, killed in the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar, and Battle of Waterloo victor the Duke of Wellington also had state funerals at St Paul's, the seat of the Bishop of London.

A million people watched Wellington's funeral procession in 1852.

St Paul's staged the 1981 wedding of Prince Charles and Diana, chosen because it has more space than Westminster Abbey and offers a longer processional route through London.

More recently, the cathedral hosted official celebrations for Queen Elizabeth II's golden and diamond jubilees in 2002 and 2012.

Wren's cathedral was built in the Renaissance style from Portland stone, the grey-white limestone used for many of London's major buildings, such as Buckingham Palace, the British Museum, the Bank of England and the National Gallery.

Sitting atop Ludgate Hill, the highest point within the historic city walls, certain sightlines of the cathedral are protected so it can be seen across London.

The 555-feet (169-metre) long building is on the site of previous St Paul's cathedrals.

The first, built in 604, caught fire and was rebuilt in stone in 902, which happened again under the Normans in 1087.

Four of Guy Fawkes' fellow gunpowder plotters were executed in the churchyard in 1607 after their failed attempt to blow up parliament .

The Norman cathedral was destroyed in the 1666 Great Fire of London, after which Wren, Britain's most famous architect, was commissioned to design its replacement.

His plans were approved in 1675, and construction was completed 35 years later in 1710.

Wren's own tomb lies in the crypt. It reads in Latin: "Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you."

Nelson and Wellington's tombs are also in the crypt.

St Paul's miraculously escaped major bomb damage during the Blitz in World War II 1940, despite being hit 28 times. A picture of it unscathed amid the smoke proved inspirational.

US civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King preached there in 1964.

Services were held to remember victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States and the July 2005 London bombings.

A 15-year, £40 million programme of internal and external restoration was completed in 2011, cleaning up its blackened exterior.

St Paul's was back in the news in October that year when anti-capitalist protesters pitched tents outside and refused to leave for four months.

Thatcher, the churchgoing daughter of a Methodist preacher, was no stranger to the giant cathedral.

She attended the service remembering September 11 victims, and one in November 2004 for the inauguration of the cathedral's Churchill memorial gates.

Thatcher also attended a low-key service in April 2007 to mark the 25th anniversary of the Falklands War, one of the defining moments of her premiership.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130417/st-pauls-londons-iconic-cathedral