There’s so much I could tell you about St Paul’s Cathedral, where do I start?! The invisible protected line of sight that shapes the new buildings that continue to be added to the city’s skyline? Its immense scale that will never fail to make my mouth drop a little in awe? A history that spans over 1,000 years? Well I’m going to take the easy route and just go back 350 years to 1666, a date we should all remember from childhood history classes (I’ve got the nursery rhyme going round in my head at the moment) or perhaps from the things going on last week in London.
In a series of events remembering the Great Fire of London which burnt a huge part of the city to cinders, St Paul’s Cathedral was opened to the public at night. For two nights only you could take in the weighted cathedral atmosphere under the shadow of night and take pictures. Although I’ve been to St Paul’s before (it makes a pretty good date in case you were wondering…), I couldn’t resist the opportunity to experience it at a different time of day. As you can’t usually take pictures when you visit, I also couldn’t pass up the rare opportunitiy to take some to share with you.
As soon as I stepped through the gates my eyes widened. The scale and the detail has a similar effect on the inside as it does on the outside, but the atmosphere it holds indoors adds something different.
The atmosphere of a church or cathedral is immediate, a place to be quiet and left alone with important thoughts and feelings, a place to hope or share joy. But there’s a seriousness that adds a strange weight and I always have an acute sense of not wanting to do any to disrespect my neighbour or surroundings. The smell is quite distinctive too, like dusty books mixed with burning candles. Add in the sheer size of St Paul’s Cathedral and it has quite an impact.
Once I’d taken as much of this in as I could, I turned to the finer details.
The Cathedral’s infamous dome, which you can see for miles, is equally impressive on the inside.
Before the devastation of 1666, the cathedral was in a serious state of disrepair and numerous plans had been drawn to resurrect it. However, the fire that spread from Pudding Lane quickly reached the Cathedral and the wooden scaffolding holding the building together helped kindle the flames. The high vaults fell, smashing into the crypt, thousands of books stored there in the vaults leased to printers and booksellers fuelled the fire and put the original structure beyond hope of rescue.
The building we see today was designed by one of Britain’s most respected and famous architects, Sir Christopher Wren. He’s responsible for many of the city’s most grand churches and cathedrals. One of them has even been converted into a coffee shop (The Wren, still on my visit list with a few others in that area.) It took him nine years to make sure his plans would meet the needs of a working cathedral. But the last stone to complete the building wasn’t laid until 1708.
It’s hard to imagine a building taking that long to finish when it feels like new ones rise within just a couple of years. But then, none of the structures we see now have any of the same fine craftsmanship and hand-painted detail as St Paul’s.
New buildings also don’t really need to deliver or attract the same admiration.
I often wonder what it would be like to deliver a wedding ceremony in a normal sized building, let alone one like this.
I let my thoughts wander for a while and did a bit of people watching.
Before eventually heading down to the Crypt.
To musicians like Hubert Parry (who composed the choral song ‘Jerusalem’ – which I’m sure you’ll have sang at some point!)
Of course Sir Christopher Wren can be found there too, in fact he was the first to be interred.
At this point and after a busy day in the office I didn’t manage to read and see everything, but I think with more time to listen to the free multimedia guides I could learn a whole lot more and probably spend a whole day there.
The dome and upper galleries weren’t open for the event but I can recommend heading up there to take in the views across the city and see the Cathedral from another angle.
Although it was a bit busy and a little touristy, I still enjoyed going back and learning more. It’s just such a beautiful building. I often wonder whether I’ll be in London forever and it just makes sense to grab the opportunities to see what I can whilst I’m here, even if a few hundred people have the same idea for their weekend trip or holiday.
You can visit St Paul’s Cathedral in the week and weekend at certain times only. It’s best to check the website before visiting, where you can also buy advance tickets. You can’t ususally take pictures but keep an eye on their Twitter feed or Facebook page for special events.
Have you visited St Paul’s Cathedral or any other more touristy places recently?