Sir Christopher Wren, an English architect, born at East Knoyle, Wiltshire, Oct. 20, 1632, died at Hampton Court, Feb. 25, 1723. His father was chaplain in ordinary to Charles I. and dean of Windsor. He graduated at Oxford in 1650, received the degree of M. A. in 1653, and became a fellow of All Souls' college. He had already made many inventions, including the wheel barometer and mezzotint engraving (according to his son), and had written papers on astronomy, on instruments of scientific application, on ship building, fortification, harbors, whale fishing, the easiest method of finding the longitude, and many other topics. He now became the associate of a body of scientific men whose meetings laid the foundation of the royal society. In 1657 he was elected professor of astronomy in Gresham college, London, and three years later Savilian professor of astronomy at Oxford. In 1661 he was appointed assistant to Sir John Denham, the surveyor general. In 1663 he designed the chapel of Pembroke college, Cambridge, and in the same year was commissioned to make a survey of St. Paul's cathedral, with a view to restoring or rebuilding it so as to adapt the whole structure to the famous Corinthian portico added by Inigo Jones. His plans for the restoration of the cathedral were soon prepared, and gave rise to protracted discussions, in the midst of which occurred the great fire of London (1666). By royal command Wren made an exact survey of the whole burnt district, and submitted a scheme which provided for wide and regular streets, frequent squares and piazzas, and a line of commodious quays along the Thames. The property owners were indifferent to his suggestions, and the same narrow thoroughfares were preserved as of old; but he found abundant employment in the erection of public buildings and churches in lieu of those destroyed by the fire.
The first of these in importance is the new cathedral of St. Paul's. The first plan for this edifice designed by Wren was in the form of a Greek cross, and of a single order in height, with a dome as large as that of St. Peter's. But the duke of York, afterward James II., with a view to the future introduction of the ceremonials of the Roman Catholic service, insisted upon certain modifications, to which Wren was compelled to conform, and which resulted in the adoption of the present form of the Latin cross. The first stone was laid June 21, 1675, and the last was laid 35 years later in Wren's presence, by his son Christopher. The interior decoration according to Wren's designs was never completed, but is now (1876) in progress. Besides St. Paul's, he designed 53 churches or more in London, of which 50 were intended to replace those destroyed in the great fire. Among the most famous are St. Mary-le-Bow, St. Bride's in Fleet street, and St. Stephen's in Walljrook, the last named being particularly noted for its exquisitely beautiful interior.
His remaining works include the royal exchange and the custom house, both subsequently burned, the Monument, Temple Bar, and the college of physicians, all in London; the hospitals at Greenwich and Chelsea; large additions to the palaces of Hampton Court and St. James's; the west front and towers of Westminster abbey; a palace at Winchester for Charles II., now used as barracks; the gateway tower of Christ Church college, Oxford, and the Sheldonian theatre and Ashmolean museum in the same city; besides various college chapels and other buildings for the two universities. On the accession of George I. court influence was brought to bear against him, and at the age of 86 he was removed from the office of surveyor general, which he had held for 49 years. He was buried in the crypt, of St. Paul's, and a black marble slab, with the inscription, Si monumentum requiris, circumspice, marks his tomb. He was knighted by Charles II. at Whitehall in 1674, and between 1685 and 1713 represented various boroughs in parliament.
He was elected president of the royal society in 1680, and appointed comptroller of the works in Windsor castle in 1684. The most authentic record of his life is to be found in the " Parentalia," begun by his son Christopher, and completed by his grandson Stephen Wren (1750).