Iconic St Paul's

After 40 years I thought I'd re-visit this amazing Cathedral. Not that I remebered much about it from my first visit!

Checking out the deceased

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by MichaelJM on August 31, 2011

We climbed down the steps to the lowest part of the Cathedral. St Paul’s crypt is the largest in Europe and is the "final resting place" for many of the nation’s greatest heroes, poets and scientists - people must have made an outstanding contribution to the life of the nation to be buried here. The audio tour doesn’t cover the Crypt so you need to check out the additional leaflet that will guide you around the memorials to Britain’s great names.

The famous Lord Nelson, killed in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, was buried in St Paul's after a state funeral. His coffin was made out of the timber from a French ship that he defeated in battle. Interestingly the black marble sarcophagus that adorns his tomb was originally intended for Cardinal Wolsey who was Lord Chancellor to Henry VIII. After Wolsey's "fell from grace" it remained unused at Windsor awaiting the death of a person who would merit such a magnificent piece of "tombware". Nelson was clearly the man!
Another battle hero is Lord Wellington, but he is buried in a less ostentatious tomb. It’s impressive though simply made out of Cornish granite. However, the tomb is surrounded by the very banners that were made for his funeral procession.

Of course Sir Christopher Wren, the architect of St Paul's, is buried here but his tomb proved to be more difficult to find. It’s in the south aisle on the eastern side and a simple stone marks his spot. Indeed the surrounding memorials to his family, to the masons and other colleagues who worked on the building of St Paul's dominate the area. Our attention was drawn to the Latin epitaph above his tomb, which was written by his son and states: 'Reader, if you see his monument, look around you.'

There are tombs of and memorials to artists, scientists and musicians including the likes of Sir Joshua Reynolds, the artist; Sir Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillin; the composer Sir Arthur Sullivan; and the sculptor Henry Moore.

It’s a real treasure trove of the famous and checked almost every single nook and cranny excitedly finding yet another name that we recognised. As we were about to leave the Crypt we examined the memorial gates to Sir Winston Churchill who isn’t buried here but worthily has a magnificent memorial to his life.

There’s a small restaurant down here if you want a coffee and a snack, but it was real busy when we were visiting so we didn’t bother. I think the crypt is well worth visiting and as the entry fee to the Cathedral includes this visit it may as well be part of your itinerary.

Very interesting.
St Paul's Cathedral
The Chapter House
London, England, EC4M 8AD
+44 (20 7) 236 4128

Pub grub in a traditional hostelry

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by MichaelJM on August 30, 2011

42 Ludgate Hill, London, EC4M 7DE

Having visited St Paul’s we were ready for a drink and some lunch so determinedly we set out to find a typical London pub close to the Cathedral. We didn’t have far to look and just down the hill we spotted "Ye Olde London". Initially the name is sure to put you off, but we fought against an intense desire to carry on and checked it out. A couple of criteria were met. Firstly it did pub grub and secondly they had real ale behind the bar. Indeed we were to be spoilt for choice because they had several on tap including their own Young’s cask ale Fuller's London Pride, Greene King Abbot Ale, St Austell Tribute, and one of my personal favourites, Bombardier.

Ye Olde London did look to be a traditional English Pub and as well as the ground floor there’s a downstairs bar and also an external courtyard. The weather, however, was not conducive to eating out and so we chose to stay on the ground floor level. Having selected our drinks – I decided to try the Tribute Ale from St Austell – we settled down to check out the menu.

The menu boasted that Taylor Walker pubs "have been serving the British pub food and drink for over two centuries" and so we anticipated a real treat. The menu listed the "pub classics" including fish and chips, steak and ale pie, roast dinners, filled Yorkshire Pudding, sausage and mash. I’m a sucker for Steak and Ale Pie so that was my choice. Although I did consider going for the Roast dinner, which unusually hey serve here 7 days a week.

The meal took about 15 minutes to arrive at the table. Always a good sign as it suggests that the food isn’t sat on a serving tray waiting to be dished out. It was piping hot and there was plenty of it. I can’t pretend that I’m a connoisseur of Steak and Ale Pies but as they are high on my preferred pub meal list I reckon I’ve had a few of them over the years. This one was tasty and an ample serving and it certainl kept me going for the rest of the day. Well at least until we sat down for our evening meal!

We quite liked the atmosphere in the pub and found the staff very helpful and friendly. It seemed to tick all of the boxes for being an old and traditional London Pub, although I’d have preferred it if the pub had a different name!

Around the walls were loads of black and white photographs of the area and it was fun when we got out to recognise some of the buildings that we’d seen in photographic form.

If you’re in the area its worth popping into this hostelry, but I’m not sure that I’d make a massive detour to hunt it out.
Ye Olde London
42 Ludgate Hill
London, EC4M 7DE

A climb to the three galleries and the view....

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by MichaelJM on August 30, 2011

It’s a fair old climb up to the top of St Paul’s but the end result is well worth the effort. The cost is included in the admission price to the Cathedral. All four of us took the 257 steps up to the whispering gallery. We’re still well under the dome but at 30 metres up from the cathedral floor there’s a pretty good view down into the church and you can get a decent close up view of the dome’s mosaic.

Not for those with issues over height and both our wives stood well to the side of the gallery. They’d done better than we thought they’d do to make it up to here and I whispered across the width of the dome that they’d "done well". The gallery’s reputation was to be confirmed as the whispered back to me and I could hear their comments and giggles as they realised that I too could hear them. I wonder if Wren had realised the quirky nature of the dome and the gallery when he built it? ng the limb 259 steps up the dome and you will find The Whispering Gallery, which runs around the interior of the Dome. It gets its name from a charming quirk in its construction, which makes a whisper against its walls audible on the opposite side.

After not too intense negotiations my friend and I agreed that we’d carry on upwards whilst our wives returned to the ground floor. Another climb of 376 steps takes us up to the Stone Gallery which is 53 metres from ground level. We’re still lower than the inner dome but as this gallery is outside of the dome we get some decent views across the city of London. But don’t stop here...

The next climb of 528 steps take us up to The Golden Gallery. This is the smallest of the galleries and from here we got superb views . We’re now at 85 metres above the ground and the small gallery places us above the highest point of the outer dome, The view stretch as far as The Barbican and Shakespeare’s Globe theatre, the millennium Bridge over to the London Eye and the graceful arch of Wembley Stadium. We can clearly see the Houses of Parliament, Tower Bridge, Canary Wharf, the infamous "Gherkin", the iconic telecom tower. The climb was well worth the effort and of course from her we could gaze upward to the very top of St Paul’s.

Apparently the very top of the cross is 365 feet from ground level and I’m sure that isn’t a coincidence. Although I’m really not sure why Wren would want to build the cathedral to the height of the number of days in a year.

Of course now we had to walk back down. Still we’d be well rewarded for our efforts. We pondered on our way down about the small fossils we’d see in some of the outside blocks in the galleries, realised that it was the inner dome that carries the intricate painting and mosaics and the outer dome that’s the well-known landmark in London, and expressed our surprise that the golden ball on the top of the dome is six feet in diameter. Dimensions are all important when erecting a building that needs to be viewed from all levels and having looked at St Paul’s from top to bottom I’m sure that Wren got it right.
St Paul's Cathedral
The Chapter House
London, England, EC4M 8AD
+44 (20 7) 236 4128

Following the guided tour

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by MichaelJM on August 30, 2011

It’s years and years ago (over 40 to be clear) that I made my one and only visit to St Paul’s Cathedral and my recall of it is somewhat hazy. So as we were to spend a couple of days, taking in a show or two, we decided to check out this great edifice. Nowadays, of course, there’s an admission charge and although it seems a bit steep at £11.50 for a concessionary rate, it turned out, after our visit, that we didn’t feel that it was over-priced. Within the price you now get a "free" self-guided audio tour and this really gives you the full flavour of the church, its history and the people that have been closely linked with the church over the generations.

The scene as we first entered the cathedral brought back my earlier dormant memories of this fantastic building. The church is almost 160 metres long and the Nave is 37 metres wide. It’s almost breathtaking. Of course it was meant to be awe-inspiring as this was, and still is a space for the public and was designed to accommodate large congregations and underline the glory of God. Originally everyone would have entered through the nine metre high Great West Door, but nowadays this is only opened on special occasions. I stepped back to this mighty doorway to get "the full picture".
Of course close to the entrance is the font and St Paul’s is an impressive chunk of blue veined Italian Marble. It was carved in 1726 by Francis Bird who was the stonemason who was also responsible for the sculpture, the Conversion of St Paul, high over the main entrance.

At this end of the church, in the north and south aisle there are three chapels - All Souls', St Dunstan's and the Chapel of the Order of St Michael and St George where the bishop summarily sat in judgement over wayward clergy. I’m not sure how often it was used! You can’t fail to notice the monument to the Duke of Wellington. He had died in 1852 but it took 60 years for the figure on horseback to be completed and installed in the Cathedral.
In the South Transept there’s a monument to Admiral Nelson's, the UK’s naval hero who died at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. His monument features a lion, a symbol to indicate that he died in battle. Two other memorials commemorate the life of Turner, the artist, and Captain Robert Scott the explorer who died, in 1912, returning from the South Pole. Majestic memorials. Just in front of us is the entrance to the crypt (see separate review) with its three death's heads over the entrance.

We’re now stood under the magnificent dome and it seems to rise forever. It’s a magnificent work of art and a tribute to the engineering and building skills of the day. We intended to climb up the stairs to the highest point later on in our tour.

Next we head for the quire. This I often find is a real interesting part of a church and St Paul’s is no exception to this rule. This was the first part of the cathedral to be built and I was delighted to see that the stalls on both sides of the choir were delicately carved by the infamous Grinling Gibbons. I’ve spoke about him in other journals as his prolific work appears in many palaces and stately homes across the country. Even the organ enclosure is carved by him. The organ itself dates back to 1695 and with over 7,000 pipes, 140 stops and five keyboards it’s the third largest in England.

Although the altar looks to have age it’s actually post war, but the altar canopy is based on sketches made by Wren, so it’s entirely in keeping with the Cathedral’s roots.

In the aisle of the South Quire is a marble effigy of John Donne. I was particularly keen to find this as I’d studied his poems in my late teens. Donne had been a Dean of the cathedral and was, in my view the greatest metaphysical poets. He died in 1631 and appropriately his statue was only one of a few that survived the Great Fire of London in 1666. Scorch marks on the base are the only signs of damage to the effigy.

In the apse, at the east end of the cathedral, is the America Memorial Chapel, which honours American service-people who died in World War II. It was dedicated in 1958 and the roll of honour contains more than 28,000 names of Americans who died in that war.

The ground floor has a wealth of interest, but we left with a crick in our necks as we spent an awful lot of time gazing heavenward at the superb ceilings and carvings that are high up in this magnificent Cathedral
St Paul's Cathedral
The Chapter House
London, England, EC4M 8AD
+44 (20 7) 236 4128

St Paul's history and our approach to this iconic building

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by MichaelJM on August 29, 2011

There’s been a cathedral on this site since 604 and the first cathedral, dedicated to St Paul, was built by the Saxons. This wooden construction was burnt down and destroyed by the Vikings in 675. The replacement church was a sturdier affair being built out of stone but even this did not survive the rampages of invaders as it was also destroyed in 962. Just over a decade later it was again destroyed by fire and this time the Normans rebuilt it. I’m not absolutely sure when the work started but the Normans were masters at their art and the finished cathedral took many years to build. Indeed it was not consecrated until 1300.

Unfortunately this church was neglected over the years and in the early 1600’s a decision was made to tackle the restoration of St Paul’s under the watchful eye of Indigo Jones. The work had hardly got on way when The English Civil War started. This really meant that Churches were no longer given the respect that they’d been afforded earlier and I was surprised to read that St Paul's was used for stabling horses and the nave became a market-place. After the war the market was "moved on" and the Cathedra, what was left of it, returned to its religious function. Repairs were undertaken and plans were drawn up to restore the cathedral to its former glory.

And then fate interceded and in August 1666 the Great Fire of London "took no prisoners" and the cathedral was gutted but before he had a chance to work, the Great Fire intervened. Four days worth of ferocious fires destroyed over two-thirds of the City of London, including the great Cathedral. Quickly King Charles II and the Lord Mayor asked Wren to draw up plans for the re-creation of the City.. The plan was rapidly drawn up but unfortunately Wren’s great vision for the City’s architecture was never implemented.

Too expensive or too complex? More likely that people wanted to rebuild ruined houses and get back to normal living and so they got on with building. However, the hope that the Cathedral could be saved soon proved to be wrong so Wren was asked to draw up plans for a new place of worship on the demolished site of the original cathedral. Charles II wasn’t an easy monarch to please and it took Wren three attempts to present plans that satisfied the King. So nine years after the fire work started on the new St Paul’s and only thirty-six years later the building was finished. Wren must have been ecstatic!

Today I guess we’re all grateful for the Great Fire of London and the heritage that came out of the destruction of 1666.

The dome teased us for several blocks and then in front of us are the Romanesque columns supporting a plinth which supports more columns and the triangular relief depicting Saint Paul and the other apostles. St Paul is rightly central to the design but dwarfing his statue are the two mighty western towers. Golden pineapples top the tower - symbols of peace and prosperity. More fine columns surround the bell tower and in the tower on the right hand side, above a clock that was installed in the late 1800’s, is the hour bell known as Great Tom and Great Paul which is the largest swinging bell in Europe.

But the towering above it all is the mighty dome that "just is St Paul’s".

Our appetite was whetted and we entered the building to pay our money and start inspecting the inside of this superb iconic building of London.

St Paul's Cathedral
The Chapter House
London, England, EC4M 8AD
+44 (20 7) 236 4128


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