On Sunday, 2 September 1666, the city of London found itself ablaze. Over the next five days, what started as a small bakery fire grew and grew, until the city lay in ruins. The disaster soon came to be known as The Great Fire of London.
The Great Fire of London, with Ludgate and Old St. Paul's (ca. 1670) by Unknown artist, seventeenth centuryYale Center for British Art
A new city would have to be built from the ashes. The government turned to the young Christoper Wren - anatomist, astronomer, mathematician, and architect - to rebuild 52 of the city's churches. This astounding architectural legacy helped make Wren himself a national treasure.
Sir Christopher Wren (1711/1800) by Copy after Godfrey KnellerSt. Paul's Cathedral
St Benet Paul's Wharf
It's fair to say that the crisis presented a great opportunity for Wren, who was only just at the start of his architectural career, yet held great ambition. With the destruction of the old medieval city, he now had a blank slate on which he could leave his mark.
St Margaret Lothbury
Wren was very interested in the new architectural style, known as the Baroque, which used classical architectural features with flamboyance. The effect was in stark contrast to the Gothic churches which had existed before.
St Margaret Pattens
However the Baroque was associated directly with the two enemies of England: Catholicism and the French. So Wren's Baroque tends to be more restrained than his continental counterparts, and takes stylistic notes from whitewashed Protestant churches.
St Martin, Ludgate
A plaque on the church wall states, "Cadwallo King of the Britons is said to have been buried here in 677". While this is doubted by many modern historians, in 1669 while the church was being rebuilt, workmen found an ancient Roman sarcophagus, now held at the Ashmolean Museum.
St Mary Abchurch
Found just off Cannon Street, this church was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. But despite the name, this church has been described as, "perhaps Wren's most Protestant", for its lack of aisles or choir.
St Stephen Walbrook
The square plan, columns, and domed roof can be seen clearly in St Stephen Walbrook. What today can't be seen, or smelt, are the slaughterhouses in neighbouring Stocks Market. The smell was so offensive that the north door was bricked up only a few years after completion.
St Vedast Foster Lane
St Vedast has undergone a number of changes since its founding, some time before 1308. It was condemned after the Great Fire, and rebuilt by Wren, however the tower was soon torn down and rebuilt. During the Second World War, it was once again destroyed, this time by firebombs.
St Bride's Church
Found just off Fleet Street, St Bride's is often associated with journalists and newspapers. In fact this shared history dates back to 1500 and the first printing presses in England, when Wynkyn de Worde set up a printing press next door.
St Nicholas Cole Abbey
The church is dedicated to the patron saint of merchants and repentant thieves, St Nicholas of Myra, while 'Cole Abbey' comes from the medieval 'coldharbour', a word for a traveller's shelter or shelter from the cold.
St Paul's Cathedral
Without a doubt, St Paul's Cathedral, standing at the centre of the City, is Wren's masterpiece. It has been described as the quintessential example of the English Baroque, and has come to be seen as a symbol of London itself.
The dome of St Paul's was considered an engineering marvel. It soon became the most prestigious religious building in England, and holds the tombs of many national heroes, including Wren himself. His epitaph reads, "if you seek his monument – look around you".