St. Paul’s Cathedral, London
St. Paul’s, the actual building, doesn’t move me in the same way that Canterbury Cathedral does; however, as a symbol of the resilience of the British people during WWII, there are few buildings which strike a deeper chord. During the rain of bombs ordered by Hitler to destroy both London and the will of its residents, Winston Churchill instructed that “the cathedral must be preserved at all costs.” The people of London worked throughout the Blitz to ensure that the Prime Minister’s orders – not the Fuehrer’s orders – would be carried out. Each night volunteers sat guard on the winding steps leading to the cathedral dome to protect St. Paul’s from harm. Portions of the church were destroyed but St. Paul’s body remained intact. Each morning London residents woke to find the dome standing resolutely amidst the rubble and the smoke filled skies.
One of 51 churches designed by Christopher Wren to rebuild London after the Great Fire, St. Paul’s took 35 years to build (from 1675 until 1710) and is the fourth incarnation on the site. Today the Cathedral is one of the most recognizable and most visited of London’s many historic buildings (although some folks are put off by its 11 pound adult entry fee and the no photography inside policy).
Sneaking up on St. Paul’s…
No visitor to London can say she has truly seen the city if she has not visited St. Paul’s; and, if you are able, no visit to St. Paul’s is complete without a making the 530 step climb to the Golden Gallery. Let me say, it is a trek although it can be a religious experience in itself. During his trip up the stairs the climber in front of me could be heard to repeatedly say, “Oh, God, oh God.”
Two hundred fifty-nine steps upward, you’ll be rewarded with the Whispering Gallery, so named because you can sit next to the wall on one side of the Gallery, whisper a word and that word will be clearly heard on the other side of the Gallery: I know, I heard the word. After a few minutes rest, if at all possible, finish the journey to the uppermost access of St. Paul’s, the Golden Gallery. You will be rewarded with a 360 degree view of London that will take away what little breathe you’ll have left. Here, I – and the other panting souls who had made it to the top – assumed that pictures pointing away from St. Paul’s were permissible if only as a prize for having survived the climb. If you have limited time in the city, taking it in from the Golden Gallery of St. Paul’s Cathedral may be the best observation station in all of London.
Views from the Golden Gallery…