As it so often happens when I visit a new place, I took so many pictures at St Paul’s Cathedral that I couldn’t possibly include them all in the same post. Photos of the cathedral from the outside were the focus of Wednesday’s post. Today, we are going to venture in and take a look inside St Paul’s Cathedral in London.
We visited on a Saturday in January – crowds were low and we had no problem getting booked into a guided tour of the cathedral. Guided tours are complimentary with a paid admission, so I highly recommend you try to join one because it enhanced our experience inside St Paul’s Cathedral tremendously. Otherwise, handheld audio guides are provided to visitors free of charge. Our guide was an elderly English gentleman, a little on the stuffy side, but he fit so perfectly into what I imagined a historical guide at a cathedral in England would be like that I couldn’t help but smile. He would occasionally make corny jokes that were so unexpected that no one in our group knew exactly how to react. It was so hilariously awkward.
Our tour lasted 90 minutes and covered the main cathedral floor, the crypt, and the best part – the geometric staircase seen in the Harry Potter and Sherlock Holmes movies. You won’t see this staircase unless you join a tour as it’s blocked off from the public. I don’t even have a picture to share because our guide was a bit of a stickler to the rules and didn’t allow any photos throughout the tour. (Signs are up alerting visitors that no photography is allowed, but many visitors seemed to be disregarding them. I took the everybody’s-doing-it mentality and took some myself after the tour, but only the few pictured here which is saying something considering my normal habits!)
Inside St Paul’s Cathedral
The reason why it is so hard to follow the no photography rule inside St Paul’s Cathedral is because the cathedral is just so overwhelmingly beautiful. I completely understand why Prince Charles and Lady Diana chose to hold their wedding here – it’s absolutely exquisite. Before you start planning your own wedding here, first ask yourself – am I a member of the Order of St Michael and St George, the Order of the British Empire, the Imperial Society of Knights, or a holder of the British Empire Medal? If the answer is no, you’ll need to get married elsewhere. (And just when I was thinking this might be the place for Cory and I to renew our vows!)
The area by the high altar (pictured above) was damaged in the Blitz during WWII and has since been reconstructed. This is the only area of the cathedral that looks any different today than it did when it was built 300 years ago. The original high altar was much plainer, and as the cathedral plans didn’t allow for any stained glass within the church, the windows behind it were clear. (At the time, clear glass was seen as purer.) When the high altar was reconstructed after the war, it was quite a bit fancier than its predecessor, and there was an addition of stained glass in the newly appointed American Memorial Chapel directly behind the altar. This small chapel honors American servicemen who lost their lives in WWII and was a completely unexpected, but very generous tribute from the people of Great Britain.
St Paul’s Cathedral Dome
One of the other exciting features you’ll see on the tour of the main cathedral floor is the famous St Paul’s Cathedral dome. Scenes from the life of the apostle Paul were painted over the course of four years onto the dome’s ceiling by a man named James Thornhill. However, the paintings on the dome today are actually reproductions. Thornhill’s scenes had to be repainted in the late 1800’s due to deterioration from London’s smog.
Byzantine Mosaics Inside St Paul’s Cathedral
While you’re looking up, make sure you take the time to admire the beautiful byzantine mosaic artwork on the cathedral’s ceiling. Although the pictures don’t adequately show it, these works of art really come alive when they sparkle in the sunlight. These two come from the aisles along the sides of the cathedral, but even more stunning and intricate are the ones above the quire and high altar. My personal favorites were the three in the quire depicting the creation of earth, sky, and sea.
St Paul’s Cathedral Crypt
After our tour through the main cathedral was complete, our guide took us down into the crypt where famous figures such as Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington are laid to rest. If you look at the floors you’re walking on surrounding these tombs, you’ll notice they’re made up of tiny mosaic tiles – not quite as intricate as the colorful ceilings in the cathedral, but certainly still beautiful. The mosaics were applied by women prisoners allowed out on work release programs. If you pay attention, you’ll be able to tell where the women started and where they ended by how complex the designs are. By the time the project was completed, the women were incredibly skilled!
Also in the crypt is the OBE Chapel (Order of the British Empire) where Christopher Wren, the cathedral’s architect, is buried among many other architects, sculptors, and artists. And if you look at the floor once again, you might be alarmed to discover that you’re walking directly over the graves of these folks. They are buried underneath the floor with simple tile markers denoting their names and professions.
Our tour concluded here and we were free to check out the rest of the cathedral on our own. We immediately headed to the Whispering Gallery, my favorite thing to see inside St Paul’s Cathedral.
The Whispering Gallery
The Whispering Gallery is the perfect place to get a closer look at Thornhill’s artwork in the cathedral’s dome, but you’ll have to climb 259 stairs to get to it. This circular gallery surrounds the inside of the dome 30 meters from the cathedral floor allowing visitors to walk the complete circle and view the dome from every angle. It gets its unusual name from its unique design allowing a whisper spoken on one side of the dome to be heard on the opposite side. We tested it, and bizarrely enough, it works! You can hear the whisper as if it’s being spoken directly into your ear!
The Stone Gallery & Golden Gallery
When we were done making our way around the Whispering Gallery, we got a bit more exercise by climbing up to both of St Paul’s two outdoor galleries for a combined total of 528 stairs!
The Stone Gallery (53 meters high) and the Golden Gallery (85 meters high) at St Paul’s Cathedral offer some truly stunning views of London’s landscape, if you can ignore all the cranes. By the time we reached the Golden Gallery, the sun was beginning to set, so our pictures started coming out a bit hazy, but it was still lovely being up so high and seeing the city from this perspective.
Including our guided tour, we spent a total of three hours inside St Paul’s Cathedral, so it’s not really something you’ll want to simply pop in for. Definitely give yourself enough time to see all of it. You want to get your money’s worth after all! Admission tickets are a tad pricey for a church (£16 for adults, £7 for children), but if you factor in the guided tour and the option of climbing to the top for pretty views, it doesn’t seem quite so unreasonable. If you’re scheduling a visit, keep in mind St Paul’s is worship-only on Sundays, no sightseeing allowed!
Click here for Part 1: Architecture Of St Paul’s Cathedral
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