St. Paul's Cathedral, London

St. Paul's Cathedral, London (must see)

For centuries, this iconic structure has symbolized London's enduring spirit of survival and rejuvenation, captivating visitors both inside and outside its grand walls. Sir Christopher Wren embarked on the design of the present-day cathedral in 1666, immediately following the destruction of the prior medieval building, founded in 1087, during the Great Fire. This historical context is evident in the inscription "resurgam" ("I shall rise again") on the pediment of the south entrance. Saint Paul's Cathedral once more became a symbol of the city's resilience during the Blitz, as local volunteers bravely fought to extinguish a fire on the dome (though despite their efforts, a significant portion of the building's eastern end and its high altar were lost). It has frequently served as the backdrop for momentous state events, including Winston Churchill's funeral and the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

Construction commenced in 1675 and took 35 years to complete. Interestingly, this was Wren's third architectural proposal: the initial design was rejected for being too modern, while the second was deemed too modern and too influenced by Italian (Catholic) architecture. The "Great Model" of this second design, a 20-foot representation, can be seen in the crypt. In a compromise with the Anglican clergy, Wren included a traditional English spire but ultimately installed a neoclassical triple-layered dome, the second-largest cathedral dome globally after Saint Peter's in Rome.

The cathedral's interior showcases a remarkable example of English Baroque design. Ascend 257 steps up the meticulously engineered Geometric Staircase, a stone spiral marvel, to reach the Whispering Gallery, named so because a whisper against one wall can be heard clearly on the wall 112 feet away. Another 119 steps lead to the Stone Gallery, encircling the dome's exterior and offering panoramic views of London. For those with a head for heights, an additional 152 steps lead to the small Golden Gallery, an observation deck at the dome's zenith. At 278 feet above the cathedral floor, it presents even more breathtaking vistas.

Descending to ground level, in the south choir aisle, rests the grave of John Donne, the poet who served as dean of Saint Paul's from 1621 until his passing in 1631. His marble effigy stands as the cathedral's oldest surviving memorial and one of the few to endure the Great Fire. The intricately carved figures on the nearby choir stall are the creations of master carver Grinling Gibbons, who also adorned Wren's great organ. Behind the high altar lies the American Memorial Chapel, dedicated to the 28,000 American GIs stationed in the UK during the Second World War. Notable figures interred in the crypt include the Duke of Wellington, Admiral Lord Nelson, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Henry Moore, and Wren himself. Aptly, the Latin epitaph above Wren's tomb reads, "Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you."

***CHARLES DICKENS TOUR***
Saint Paul's serves as a prominent backdrop in many of Dickens' novels. In "Master Humphrey’s Clock", for instance, he portrays Master Humphrey ascending to the summit of the cathedral, then the tallest structure in London, to relish the sweeping panorama of the city. He writes, "Draw but a little circle above the clustering house tops, and you shall have within its space, everything with its opposite extreme and contradiction, close beside." Another Dickens work, "David Copperfield", takes Peggotty to the top of Saint Paul's to savor the impressive views over London, a practice that visitors continue to enjoy to this day.

The vicinity surrounding this iconic cathedral was intimately known to Dickens, and he frequently visited for various reasons, including attendance at significant public events such as the Duke of Wellington's funeral in 1852.

***SHAKESPEARE WALK***
During Shakespeare's era, the vicinity around Saint Paul's was quite distinct from its present appearance. Beyond serving as the hub of religious, political, cultural, and social activity in the city, the Cathedral also played a pivotal role in London's book trade, significantly impacting the literary creations of that time. By the year 1600, Shakespeare had become the most widely published professional playwright, and the earliest versions of his plays, such as "Titus Andronicus", "Richard II", "Much Ado About Nothing", and "The Merchant of Venice", were all bought and sold in the vicinity of Saint Paul's Churchyard. It is highly probable that Shakespeare himself frequented the local bookstores in search of materials that could serve as source material for his own works. To a considerable extent, the atmosphere around Saint Paul's influenced the Bard's writing and played a significant role in its survival and reception.

***HARRY POTTER MOVIE***
Other than architecture and history buffs, nowadays Harry Potter fans also have their reason to visit Saint Paul's. The focal point of their interest lies is the spectacular spiral Geometric Staircase (also referred to as the Dean's Stair) that creates the illusion of floating out from the walls of the Cathedral's South West Bell Tower. Recognizable from "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban", this winding staircase served as the pathway for students ascending the stone steps on their way to Professor Trelawney's Divination classes, which were held in a classroom situated atop one of Hogwarts' North Towers. Additionally, the same staircase was featured in "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" as the Turris Magnus staircase. To catch a glimpse, you'll need to enter the Cathedral with a visitor ticket.

Why You Should Visit:
An architectural marvel and an iconic representation of London.
There's a wealth of exploration to be had, whether you venture above ground or into the crypt.

Tip:
Entrance to this cathedral requires a fee. Opt for online ticket purchase to streamline your visit and save time.
Additionally, you have the option to purchase an audio tour at the entrance.

Want to visit this sight? Check out these Self-Guided Walking Tours in London. Alternatively, you can download the mobile app "GPSmyCity: Walks in 1K+ Cities" from Apple App Store or Google Play Store. The app turns your mobile device to a personal tour guide and it works offline, so no data plan is needed when traveling abroad.

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St. Paul's Cathedral on Map

Sight Name: St. Paul's Cathedral
Sight Location: London, England (See walking tours in London)
Sight Type: Religious
Guide(s) Containing This Sight:

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