St Paul's Cathedral
Feature by Lizzie Guilfoyle
St Paul’s Cathedral, with its magnificent triple layered dome, the second largest in the world, is perhaps the best known of London’s many landmarks.
The brainchild of Sir Christopher Wren, it rose, phoenix-like, from the ashes of the Great Fire of London which destroyed not only old St Paul’s but also, a massive four-fifths of the city.
That was in 1666. Nine years later, and after much debate, the foundation stone for a new St Paul’s was laid and although the bulk of the work was completed in 1698, it wasn’t until 1710 that Wren’s son laid the last stone.
In the initial stages, stones from old St Paul’s were used and it was then that Wren noticed a Latin inscription on one of them. Its aptness prompted him to have it copied on the pediment of the south door, beneath a carved phoenix. It reads, ‘Resurgam – I shall rise again’.
Wren did, in fact, mix many styles in his design. They included classical and gothic, but unlike the usual bare stone characteristic of medieval British cathedrals, the interior was ornately carved, with brilliantly coloured decoration and a symmetry that is truly amazing.
To all this, masters of the day added their expertise. Woodcarver, Grinling Gibbons, was responsible for the choir stalls, while the sanctuary gates were the work of wrought-iron genius, Jean Tijon, who also designed the gates of Hampton Court Palace.
Over the years, St Paul’s has paid tribute to Britain’s glorious dead in the setting up of memorials, the oldest of them to John ‘no man is an island’ Donne, who was Dean of the cathedral from 1612 until his death, in 1631.
The largest honours the Duke of Wellington, the victor of the Battle of Waterloo, and his body is buried in the Crypt along with that of Admiral Nelson, the hero of Trafalgar, as well as that of Wren himself, who is fittingly remembered.
A simple inscription on his tomb, translates as, ‘Reader, if you seek his memorial, look about you’.
Two other memorials are worthy of note; the first, outside the cathedral’s south wall, to the 32,000 Londoners killed during World War Two; the second, the American Chapel, honours the 28,000 Americans killed in Britain during that same war.
St Paul’s did, in fact, survive The Blitz and became a symbol of hope for the people of London.
On a lighter note, are the cathedral’s dome galleries.
Of these, the Whispering Gallery is more easily accessible, being only partway up inside the dome.
It’s also the source of a strange phenomenon, so don’t be alarmed if the first thing you notice there, are visitors in quiet commune with the walls.
The fact is, a whisper can be heard 112 feet away against the opposite wall, much to the delight of millions. Hence the name.
The Golden Gallery, on the other hand, is not for the faint-hearted or indeed, anyone not 100% fit, for it can only be reached by climbing a staggering 530 steps. Goal reached though, the view is well worth the effort – and I speak from experience.
St Paul’s is, however, a working cathedral and, as such, should be afforded the respect it deserves. It also means that it is subject to closure for services.
In fact, St Paul’s has hosted some of the nation’s grandest occasions – the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer, as well as the Queen’s Silver and Golden Jubilee celebrations.
Situated in the City of London, St Paul’s is easily reached by bus or Tube. A pleasant alternative is to walk, crossing the Thames via the Millennium footbridge.
On weekdays, the surrounding area is crowded with city workers but weekends are much quieter.