Saint Paul’s Cathedral is a masterpiece that has withstood time and witnessed history. Blood has been spilled, bodies entombed, tears shed, and history made on these grounds and in these halls. The current structure has overlooked the city from the highest point in London since its rebuild began in 1675.
Since 604 AD, there has been a structure dedicated to Saint Paul on this same piece of land. In the years between the first dedicated church of Saint Paul and the current testament to the Holy Saint, the church has been raided by Vikings, burned out in battles and other disasters, and otherwise damaged significantly several times. The Cathedral as it stands now is the most recent rendition of it after it was destroyed in the 1666 Great Fire of London.
Awestruck at First Sight
My first experience seeing and exploring Saint Paul’s was not under ideal circumstances. As interested as I was in exploring the city, my wife and I had just sat for two hours on a train from Paris. To kill the few hours between arrival and check-in, we chose to take a bus tour of the city and scope out some of the sights we wanted to visit on our trip.
London streets are narrow, made even more claustrophobic by the height of surrounding buildings. However, this set the stage for the breathtaking unveiling that would be the highlight of our afternoon. Peeking through the towering five to six-story buildings stood the massive portico held up by ornate columns upon the steps.
People moved busily up and down and all around the steps at the Cathedral’s front, scurrying like ants. In front of the massive and beautiful structure, the movement of people became secondary. The 111-meter dome reached for the sky and was flanked by towering spires.
Seeing the expansive building with its intricate statues and stunning stained glass it is easy to understand why this Cathedral served as the backdrop for a sermon from Martin Luther King Jr. in 1964, and the funeral proceedings of Sir Winston Churchill. In 1981, the world watched as the people’s princess, Diana married Prince Charles.
If Walls Could Speak
The stories that the inside of Saint Paul’s walls could tell would fill thousands of volumes and journals. Upon walking through the grand doors, the sheer height and detail of the ceiling are astounding and leave most visitors in awe.
Each stained glass window tells a story and shines bright even on dull and stormy days. The glass was hand cut and mounted into the windows with care and precision unparalleled by modern glass artists. There are intricate carvings that overlook every inch of the Cathedral’s halls. The floor is checkered with black and white stone that raps loudly with each step. As people move about the hall, their steps wrap upon the floor and echo off the walls.
Set into the floors, there are heavy grates of metal that lead down into the catacombs under the main hall. You can walk over the grates, and feel history under your feet. Through them, you can hear and see other travelers visiting those historical figures entombed below and learning of the past.
As you wander through the magical spaces within the Cathedral, your eyes can feast on the arched cloisters painted and adorned with mosaics of angels and biblical figures known to millions. The golden light that filters through and into the domes of the cloisters is created by high-set windows that make the space glow.
The Golden Gallery
The architecture of Saint Paul’s Cathedral creates a cross from the various halls. At the intersection of the arms, the dome crowns the building. This is the focal point from inside and out. The dome sits over the primary place of worship within the Cathedral.
One of our tour’s most glorious and breathtaking portions was ascending the 528 steps to the Golden Gallery. From this high point on the world’s largest dome in a place of worship, you can see the city of London in its full glory. From the 280ft high platform, you can see the River Thames, Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, Tate Modern, and many other famous landmarks. Below are a few of the pictures I took of the stunning views.
Above the Golden Gallery stands the Ball and Lantern. The original ball and lantern were put in place in 1708 but replaced in 1821. The current structure stands 23 feet high and weighs roughly seven tons. This iconic structure can be seen from nearly any neighborhood in London. On the way up, you’ll pass through the Stone Gallery, which rings the 2nd smallest dome section. It rests 173 ft from the ground and can be reached by climbing the 378 steps.
If you would like to hear the acoustics of this stunning church in action, you won’t want to miss Choral Evensong. Evensong is a traditional service of worshiping God through music that takes place towards the end of the day and lasts about 45 minutes. Listening to the combination of the singing and the accompanying organ reverberate under the dome can be astonishing.
I have never been a fan of old-style church choirs but the first time I experienced Evensong at St. Paul’s I was surprised by how beautiful and calming the music was. Click here to listen to a snippet I recorded the last time I was there.
It is easy to see why so many people, year after year, visit Saint Paul’s Cathedral. Even if you aren’t religious, or follow another faith, it is impossible to deny the beauty that has been created with this structure.
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