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

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