Alright, I’m back to blogging about our trip to England. There’s just 2 days left, but I came to a screeching halt with today’s post because I have felt so inadequate to the task of blogging about St. Paul’s Cathedral. There were two locations of our trip that were a personal pilgrimage of sorts because of the intense meaning that had for me – Hilltop Farm and St. Paul’s Cathedral. This cathedral had captured my imagination with my childhood viewings of Mary Poppins and I wanted to badly to see it with my own eyes. I was in full-vibration mode with excitement as we made our way by underground and popped up to street level to walk to the cathedral.
It was a glorious morning and the gardens surrounding the cathedral welcomed us in with full rose blooms. We made our way inside and I was overwhelmed with its beauty.
There has been a church on this site (the highest in London) since the 600s. However, the current cathedral was built in the aftermath of the great London fires, literally arising from the ashes by the inspired hand and mind of Christopher Wren. The brilliant architect clashed with the magistrates of London over what the final design should be like and after several drafts, he presented them with a drawing of a conservative Gothic style which suited the officials and they finally gave approval. Wren went on to build his masterpiece and in one of the greatest snow jobs in history, gave the city this soaring Baroque cathedral instead.
Everywhere you looked, your eyes were filled with exquisite beauty. Elaborate wood carving, detailed stone sculpture, and precious gold accents filled every view. The interior was designed to be spacious, filled with light, and meant to lift the eyes and soul upwards towards God. We went on a guided tour of the cathedral, which led us to the evocative Geometric staircase.
This is not an illusion – the steps are literally hanging in the air, as they are built directly into the wall and overlap with each other mere centimeters.
Here is the quire. You probably know by now that I am enchanted with the quires of all the cathedrals we’ve visited. These spaces are filled with ornate wood carvings and beautiful vertical lines. This one was no exception. The quire was where civic and clerical officials participated in the services.
This view gives a more complete look at one side of the quire, and the magnificent organ. You can also see more of the architectural elements, like the mosaic arches that fill the ceiling and border both sides of the quire.
A window catches the sunlight and sets off the metal filigree of this gate delineating a chapel area. It was scenes like this that really blurred the lines between earth and heaven in my experience. This place felt so transcendental and holy.
St. Paul’s is affectionately known as “London’s Church” and holds an irreplaceable importance in the life and history of England. During World War II, Prime Minister Churchill warned the people of London that St. Paul’s must be saved at all costs. Volunteer forces camped on the roofs of the cathedral every day to protect the building from the bombing. St. Paul’s managed to escape with remarkably little damage. There is a memorial to the brave men who put themselves in harm’s way to save the cathedral. In addition to honoring their own men, St. Paul’s has a special chapel in the eastern apse to memorialize the American men who lost their lives in the war.
Here the high altar stands amid decoratively carved pillars and panels. In the heart of this chapel is a book with all the names of the American dead kept under glass and a page is turned each day. The carvings are all of native American flora and fauna and the stained glass (directly behind the view of the photo) depicts each of the state seals. Here’s closeups of some of the carvings.
The one on the left is of a rocket, in a tribute to American’s space program. The right is a flying bird (I think it is an eagle) surrounded by branches full of blooms.
As with every cathedral in which we were able, we climbed the steps up the tower as far as we could go. St. Paul’s is well known for its Whispering Gallery, a narrow path around the dome where if you whisper on one side you can hear the words clearly on the opposite side. Unfortunately this was closed during our visit, but we were able to make our way to the “Golden level” and up the spires to see the panoramic views of London.
Can you see that line of London tour buses down below?
I hope you enjoyed a look inside this magnificent cathedral. I’ll be back again in my next post with a bit more about St. Paul’s. I’ll leave you with this poignant quote by Winston Churchill.
“We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us”
It was easy to see how London past and present have been shaped by this great cathedral. The people of London, and indeed the nation, have mourned, celebrated, and commemorated there for centuries. And it was a delight to find my own heart bending and shaping to make room for these ancient stones.
Blessings to you,