Though I had harbored fantasies of visiting St. Paul’s Cathedral à la Mary Poppins (crooning sweetly and throwing seed to the nearby birds), a sign reading “please don’t feed the birds” soon dashed my hopes (I didn’t really feel like singing after that…or perhaps it was the “quiet please” sign on display as I entered the cathedral that caused me to keep my trap shut). In any case, I recovered quickly from my initial disappointment (after all, I still had singing chimney sweeps to look forward to) and thoroughly enjoyed my visit of one of Europe’s most celebrated cathedrals.
London’s majestic, St. Paul’s Cathedral has been in this spot since 604AD (though it has changed it’s “look” several times). Its current incarnation is the fourth to sit on this plot of land. It was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and constructed between the years of 1675-1710. It replaced the earlier cathedral that had been destroyed in a massive fire. Since it’s completion in 1710, St. Paul’s has received several “facelifts,” notably the addition of the intricate mosaics in the mid-nineteenth century. These were a response to Queen Victoria’s remark that the interior of the cathedral was drab and “undevotional.”
Just as impressive as Wren’s powerful late-Renaissance architecture are the number of historically significant events that have taken place in this space, including the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill, national peace services at the end of WWI and WWII, the 80th and 100th birthday services for the Queen Mother, the 80th birthday service of Her Majesty the Queen and, of course, the unforgettable marriage of Charles, Price of Whales, to Lady Diana Spencer.
During my first visit to St. Paul’s Cathedral, I focused primarily on its famous dome; I even hoofed it up to the top and enjoyed panoramic views of the city. The iconic dome was designed after the one on St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It rises a lofty 365 feet above the city, making it one of the highest in the world. On my latest visit, however, I went down instead of up, and explored St. Paul’s historic crypt.
The crypt contains stones from medieval times as well as the tombs of many notable Englishmen and women. Although members of the royal family are buried in Westminster Abbey, you have to head to St. Paul’s to see the final resting places of Florence Nightingale and Lord Nelson. Of course, Sir Christopher Wren, the aforementioned architect of the cathedral, is also entombed here. In fact, he was the first person to be buried in the crypt in 1723. The inscription on his tomb reads, “Reader, if you seek his memorial, look all around you.” What a fitting memorial it is.
If you’re not planning a trip to London anytime soon but still want to catch a glimpse of the celebrated St. Paul’s Cathedral, take the captivating virtual tour.
Written by Jen Westmoreland Bouchard for EuropeUpClose.com