Let there be light: St Paul's celebrates 300 years and a heavenly makeover

Six million mosaics cleaned with cotton buds transforms St Paul's Cathedral, writes Iain Hollingshead.

QUEEN Elizabeth attended a service in St Paul's Cathedral this week to celebrate not only its 300th anniversary, but also the fact that, for the first time in 15 years, it is free of scaffolding.

The restoration - the first comprehensive works in its illustrious history - cost £40 million and has taken almost half as long as it did Christopher Wren to design and build it.

Inside, the light floods in from the heavens, falling on freshly scrubbed carvings and sculptures. The Portland stone exterior gleams once more; the ravages of three centuries of pollution, wind and rain a distant memory. "I used to think it was rather more like a railway station than a great cathedral," says Martin Stancliffe, the wonderfully titled Surveyor to the Fabric, who has overseen the project. "It was very dirty, very unkempt … I think it's not unfair to say it has been a transformation."

Transforming the "temple" that has witnessed the funerals of Nelson, the Duke of Wellington and Churchill, the peace services for the end of both world wars, and the marriage of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer has certainly required many hands. And perhaps most hands-on of these are the stonemasons, all of whom were invited to Tuesday's service.

Mark Fosh, who spent three years cleaning almost 1 million cubic feet of stone, is relieved it is all over. "It was like being a chimpanzee at the zoo," he jokes, rocking backwards and forwards to display his technique with a hosepipe. The pressure had to be kept low so as not to damage the stonework. Lichen and moss build-up was widespread. Some carbon and soot deposits had to be chiselled out by hand. The south side of the cathedral, nearest the various power stations, was the worst.

Not all the work, however, was mundane. Mr Stancliffe was puzzled by an alarming horizontal crack right through the middle of the Thornhill dome. Eventually he concluded that it was the result of a high explosive bomb dropped on the north transept during the Second World Waro.

Inside, the cathedral's annual 2 million visitors will find the Whispering Gallery repainted, every pipe of the organ that Mendelssohn once played cleaned, the walls washed several shades lighter and all 6 million pieces of a mosaic individually cleaned with cotton buds and deionised water.

They might even find God. "It causes everyone to pause and look around them with wonder," says Mr Stancliffe. "It makes all the services here much more glorious than they were before."