Wren, Sir Christopher

Wren, Sir Christopher an eminent English architect and mathematician, son of Dr. Christopher Wren, was born at Knoyle, in Wiltshire, October 20, 1632, and early discovered a special genius for mathematics. He entered Wadham College, Oxford, at the age of fourteen, and graduated A.B. in 1650. He was then chosen fellow of All-Souls' College, and graduated A.M. in 1652. He was made professor of astronomy in Gresham College, London, in August, 1657, and three years later he received the Savilian professorship at Oxford. In 1661 he was appointed by Charles I assistant to sir John Denham, the surveyor-general, and was commissioned, in 1663, to survey and report upon St. Paul's Cathedral, with a view to its restoration in such a form as to harmonize it with the Corinthian colonnade added to it by Jones. The scheme met with such opposition from many quarters that it was indefinitely postponed. Wren was in the meantime employed on some other buildings, as the Sheldonian Theatre at Oxford, from 1664 to 1669, and the library of Trinity College, Cambridge, which, however, was not built until 1772. He visited Paris in 1665, while the works of the Louvre were in progress. After the great fire of 1666 he began at once a plan for the entire reconstruction of the city of London on a magnificent architectural plan, with wide streets and piazzas at intervals. But the immediate necessities of the citizens prevented the accomplishment of so vast a design, so he was obliged to, content himself with labors upon individual structures. Among these were the Royal Exchange, Custom- House (both since destroyed by fire and rebuilt), Temple Bar, the Monument, and some churches, including that of St. Stephen's, Walbrook, all of which were built before St. Paul's was begun. He was busy in the meantime with designs for St. Paul's Cathedral, and when it came to the actual construction of the edifice, the plan which he preferred was rejected, and the one chosen he was compelled to modify contrary to his own judgment. The first stone of the present edifice was laid June 21, 1675, and the last stone on the summita of the lantern was laid by the architect's son, Christopher, in 1710. On the decease of sir John Denham, in March 1688, Wren succeeded him in the office of surveyor-general of his majesty's works, an office which he held until after the death of queen Anne, in 1714. He had resigned the office of Savilian professor in 1673, and accepted that of president of the Royal Society in 1680. He also sat several times in Parliament, but his numerous and important professional engagements left him little leisure for other pursuits or duties. He was found dead in his chair after dinner, February 25, 1723, and received the honor of a splendid funeral in St. Paul's, where his remains were deposited in a crypt, with no other adornment to his tomb than the inscription, "Si monumentum quaeris, circumspice." Among his numerous architectural works not already mentioned are, spire and Church of St. Mary-le-Bow (1671-78); St. Lawrence, Jewry (167186); Royal Observatory, Greenwich (1675); Chelsea Hospital (1682-90); St. James's, Westminster (1683); Hampton Court (1690), and towers of the west front of Westminster Abbey (1713). See Chalmers, Biog. Dict. s.v.; Knight, Engl. Cyclop. s.v.

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