St. Paul's Cathedral, London
Churches, cathedrals and graveyards - no holiday would be complete without a visit to at least one of these. As I said in my introduction to this series, I am not a religious man. That being said, I do often find myself on hallowed ground when I'm on vacation. Questions of an almighty aside, I am interested in the story of mankind. Throughout history, religious buildings offer the best of what we are as human beings. I want to tell you about one that filled my heart with wonder.
|The New River in my home town of Enfield|
I am an immigrant to Canada. My family came to Alberta when I was just five years old. Anybody that meets me would immediately peg me as a Canadian. In fact I was born in North London and it wasn't until I was 38 years old that I ever returned to my homeland. It was an eye opening experience and it didn't take long for me to be totally enthralled by London. I think some people who know me are a bit mystified by the fact that I love London so much. Yes, I am the same person who goes to such great lengths to find solitude in natural settings. The only way I can really explain it is that I like the "real" thing and London is definitely a real city. You can feel the buzz of the place before you even get off the plane. You clear customs and then the race is on. My father told me that his dad would always tell him "get ready to start running" whenever they took the tube into Central London and the pace hasn't slowed.
So why St. Paul's? It is different than the rest. Its high domed ceiling and climb upward to the upper galleries was an experience not unlike ascending a mountain. It is the closest thing I have ever experienced, that approached nature in its grandeur.
I must admit that I have only been to St. Paul's once and at a sad time in my life. I was in England for the funeral of an Uncle who was particularly dear to me. I had two weeks in London, which I would normally relish, but I wasn't in the mood to sight-see. One day my sister suggested that we visit the cathedral and I agreed. It exceeded all of my expectations. Standing beneath the dome I looked up and wondered at its design. There was a choir there (from Florida) that sang beneath the dome. Their voices sang out a mix of Southern Gospel and more traditional choral songs which reverberated from the dome. It was one of the most amazing aural experiences I have ever encountered.
|Under the dome|
I wandered the floor of the cathedral and found the American Memorial Chapel, which is dedicated to the U.S. servicemen based in the UK that lost their lives in the Second World War. It was created in a section that was rebuilt after being destroyed by Nazi bombs during the blitz. Downstairs in the crypt were heroes Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, and Florence Nightingale. Also lying beneath his masterpiece is the body of Sir Christopher Wren. Wren created the modern incarnation of St. Paul's after Old St. Paul's was destroyed in the Fire of London in 1666. The new cathedral was officially completed in 1711.
|The City from Stone Gallery|
It was when we began our ascent up a series of narrow stairways that I truly began to embrace this man-made wonder. The first gallery we encountered on the way up was the Whispering Gallery, 30 metres up from the Cathedral floor. A whisper spoken against the wall can be heard 32 metres away on the opposite side of the dome. I am not sure exactly how this works, but I understand it was discovered after the gallery was built. Then we ascended to the Stone Gallery on the outside at the bottom of the exterior dome. The interior dome is built within the exterior one and does not conform to it at all. We climbed higher to a point at the very top of the interior dome. My sister directed me to a small glass portal that looked straight down to the Cathedral floor, where I had stood minutes before staring up in wonderment. We continued up to the Golden Gallery which is 85 metres above the floor and looks out over London. I could see the Old Bailey, the Thames of course and the Millennium Bridge, Parliament and the London Eye. Across the river on the South bank was a pub which beckoned me with its fine ale and plowman's sandwich. Soon I was back down on the streets of London and across the bridge to a waiting pint...
|Looking down at the Millennium Bridge from Golden Gallery|
At the highest point of The City there has been a church or cathedral for some 1400 years. The latest version is certainly the most magnificent one to grace this hallowed spot. I have often wondered if I might be a more religious person if I was raised among the churches and traditions of the Old World. My only experience at St. Paul's Cathedral seems to lend some degree of credence to my speculation. Sir Christopher Wren's tribute to Almighty God's creation is quite simply the most inspirational man-made structure that I have ever encountered.
|After our climb to the top of the cathedral, a pub beckons from across the Thames|