For those who may not know, St. Pauls Cathedral is an incredibly important building to London and Londoners in general. During the Blitz Prime Minister Winston Churchill, realising the importance for morale, declared that “…St Paul’s Cathedral should be protected at all costs”.
Through great effort, with little to no water available, low visibility and fires raging throughout the City of London, protected it was. Luck also played its part; an incendiary device hit the roof but didn’t explode. It melted the lead, falling through and the brave volunteer fire-fighters managed to smother it with sandbags before any major damage was done.
St. Paul’s stood as a symbol of strength and defiance when Britain was at her lowest ebb. Standing proud when the buildings surrounding it were completely levelled, it is miraculous it is still here when some 30,000 tonnes of bombs were dropped on London by the Luftwaffe from September 7, 1940 until the Blitz stopped on May 11th 1941.
The funerals of Winston Churchill and Princess Diana were held at St. Paul’s. It has survived 12 monarchies and two World Wars, and it has the 2nd largest dome in the world at 111m high. This is as genuinely verifiable a London icon as you’re likely to find.
The importance and gravitas of this building not being lost on me, I made my way inside the building that has dominated London’s skyline since 1708 when it was built by Sir Christopher Wren to replace the previous cathedral destroyed by the Great Fire of London in 1666.
St. Paul’s is one of the largest churches in Europe. There is a long, central walkway leading to the north and south transepts and the high altar. There are monuments to the great and good of British history including the Duke of Wellington and the fallen of both World Wars.
The interior is ornate and in the English Baroque style with painted vaulted ceilings, arched recesses and the magnificent central dome painted to depict the life of St.Paul. It has a restrained but still very elaborate sense of decor.
After exploring the cathedral floor and the chapels, you ascend 257 steps to the Whispering Gallery for wonderful views of the worship area below and the painted dome above. Originally an accidental feature, the Whispering Gallery is so-called because of the acoustics of the dome; you can whisper along the walls and be heard on the other side.
There are a further 273 steps to the Golden Gallery. This is the most challenging and claustrophobic climb of them all. It is worth the effort though as the views are spectacular. At 85 meters up you have unrestricted 360 degree views of the City and the West End.
London landmark after London landmark are on show: The Tate Modern, The Shard, Canary Wharf and Docklands, The Houses of Parliament, The London Eye and many more are spread out before you displaying the vast and wonderful tapestry of London in all its glory.
The descent down to the crypt is thankfully much easier than the climb up. This is the final resting place of some genuine titans of history. Lord Nelson, The Duke of Wellington and Alexander Fleming are all interred here. Figures that drastically altered British and World history, without whom, the world would have been a very different place. Sir Christopher Wren, the architect responsible for this masterpiece is also buried here.
I’m very proud to be a Londoner and I’m even more proud that this incredible structure has been such a fixture on our skyline for over 300 years. From rising like a phoenix from the literal ashes of the Great Fire of London, to shining like a beacon of hope during humanity’s darkest hour, galvanising a nations spirit in the process, St. Paul’s has a story few can rival. It may no longer be the most prominent building on our skyline, or the most visible, but it’s still the most beautiful and the most important. I think it always will be.
Thanks for reading
Prices and Info:
St. Paul’s Cathedral, St. Paul’s Churchyard, London, EC4M 8AD.
Entry: £18. If you’re a U.K. taxpayer you also can register this payment for Gift Aid which allows any charitable institution to claim the tax back from the government effectively increasing the amount of the donation. It also grants you entry for 1 year making it better value for money.