Part landmark, part architectural history lesson, part cultural center, and
part house of worship, St. Paul's Cathedral is unquestionably
one of the top 10 places to visit on any trip to London, England.
(An exception might be for those traveling with small children.) The towering
stone edifice is one of the tallest churches in the United Kingdom, and remains one of
the most recognizable landmarks in this city of landmarks.
is a Church of England cathedral. The Church of England traces its roots back
to early Roman Catholicism, but includes influences of the Protestant
Reformation. It is considered the mother church of the Anglican Communion.
History Of The Cathedral
A cathedral or church of some type has likely existed on the site where St. Paul's stands today
since the middle of the first century AD. Indeed, some sources speculate that
pre-Christian temples occupied the site before that. Two subsequent cathedrals
were built late in the century; both were destroyed by fire. The next church to
be built on this site is the one that became known as Old St. Paul's. Despite
the fate of the previous two churches, sufficient wood was used in the
200-year construction of Old St. Paul's
that it, too, would eventually succumb to the Great Fire of London in 1666. The
church we see today was designed in large part by the famed architect Sir
Christopher Wren, a Renaissance man who was also astronomer, an engineer, a
scientist, and a mathematician.
Architecture Of The Cathedral
The cathedral we see today, which officially opened on Christmas Day in 1711,
bears a strong resemblance in some aspects to St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. The
massive dome is, to the American eye, reminiscent of a capitol building. The
long and ornate nave has two adjacent aisles with three chapels. Two massive
towers soar at the west end of the cathedral, giving St.
Paul's its signature appearance in the London skyline.
The dome is the object of focus for many visitors, with its famed
"Whispering Gallery." Reached by climbing 259 steps, this gallery is 99 feet
above the cathedral floor. Its acoustics enable a listener to hear a whisper
from the far side of the gallery. Visitors can climb still farther to take in
breathtaking views over the city on an exterior walkway.
Arts And The Cathedral
In addition to the intrinsic design, carvings, and sculptures that are a part
of a cathedral's function as a house of worship, the Corporation of the Cathedral
takes an active role in acquiring and displaying both permanent and transitory
works of the visual arts, and in presenting concerts and musical offerings both
sacred and secular.
The church houses an immense organ that dates back to 1694. Having undergone
much renovation and reparation over the intervening years, The Grand Organ
remains a focal point of the church, along with three other organs. The choir
consists of 30 boys and 12 men who provide Evensong services at 5 p.m. Tuesday
through Saturday and three musical offerings on Sundays.
The St. Paul's
Cathedral Arts Project brings artists and their artwork into the cathedral to
explore the intersection of art and faith.
Visiting The Cathedral
St. Paul's Cathedral is easily reached via the London Underground. The
cathedral is open for sightseeing on Mondays through Saturdays between 8:30
a.m. and 4 p.m. Admission is charged, which may strike some as odd, since
it is a house of worship, but many cultural events take place here, there is
much history to absorb, and maintenance costs are significant. The cathedral is
open for worshippers on Sunday and no admission is charged. Please respect the
religious aspect of the building and refrain from attending to sightsee on
At this writing, basic adult admission is £15; children are less and there
are discounts for families and groups. The price of admission includes entry to
the cathedral floor, to the crypts, and to various galleries including the
Whispering Gallery in the dome. With your admission, you also receive a
self-guiding audio tour apparatus, which is available in many languages and
allows browsing to various points of interest throughout the cathedral. I
highly recommend the audio device -- it is easy to use and contains sufficient
content to spend half a day in the cathedral, but is easily navigated to access
whatever points interest you for a quick tour as well.
Sally O'Neal visited St. Paul's Cathedral in London in April of 2012. She contributes
tales of her travels and outdoor adventures weekly to sportsmansguide.com.