St Paul’s Cathedral is one of the most recognisable and popular attractions in London. A breathtaking object of beauty, a spiritual centre, an architectural masterpiece, a climbing adventure, and an engaging place of learning. Originally built in 604AD, St Paul’s was rebuilt several times before the Great Fire destroyed it again. Reconstruction was overseen by Britain’s most famous architect Sir Christopher Wren between 1675 and 1710, with services starting in 167 and continuing today.
Visiting the daunting St. Paul’s Cathedral: exciting, enormous, stunning, exhausting. How can you get the most out of your visit? Can you expect to do everything?
Here are my tips and notes on the crypt!
Always check St Paul’s website.
Although open daily from 8:30am to 4:30pm, I’d advise checking online for your dates. Book online if you can be precise with your timing.
On occasion, there are events at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Check your dates to see if there is an event when you plan to visit – it’s rare that something will impede your visit, but checking hours at every venue in London is always advisable. And remember that this is a functioning church, with regular services, so being respectful of the fact that this is a place of worship is important.
Be patient and ready to climb (sometimes in tight spaces. For a long time.)
To see it all requires time, some patience (for kids and adults alike) and a bit of energy if you want to climb up the winding spiral staircase to the delightful Whispering Gallery, and more than just a bit to climb all the way to the top of the Dome: The Golden Gallery. On the way up. having a chance to see the infrastructure of this tremendous architectural feat fascinates and delights most, even if the climb can be vertigo-inducing, and, at times, claustrophobic. Expect many turns, tight hallways and narrow, winding staircases. The open-air views of London are refreshing after such an ordeal, and make the climb more than worth the effort. First, the Stone Gallery, and further up, the much-smaller Golden Gallery, both offer tremendous, very fresh views all around London. Relax and enjoy them – you must climb back down…
Make time for the Crypt at the end – Great Break!
Educational, museum-quality exhibits and interactive media along with the requisite gift shop and cafe.After the cathedral, the Whispering Gallery, the climb up to the top of the dome and eventual climb back down, you’re not done until you ‘exit the gift shop.’ Fortunately, in this case, you’ll see more architecture and art, but you’ll also have a mini-museum experience of thoughtfully curated exhibits. If you didn’t care to make the climb(s) then you can relax and enjoy Oculus, a clever 270-degree film display where you can feel as if you are taking a tour around the cathedral in person. Watch it anyway… it’s surprisingly relaxing.
The Churchill screen gates divide the refectory and the crypt and can be seen when visiting the cafe, the shop or the public bathrooms. After your climb, you can leisurely visit the crypt, the exhibits, Oculus, the gift shop, and (of course) cake and coffee (or tea) in the cafe.
Tombs & Memorials
“Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you.” reads Sir Christopher Wren’s simple memorial (south aisle in the east of the crypt) so take his advice. Be on the lookout for the following tombs and memorials: painter Sir Joshua Reynolds; sculptor Henry Moore; scientist Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillin; the Duke of Wellington (the largest, it actually took longer to build than the whole cathedral,) and Lord Nelson facing Charles Marquis Cornwallis. Painter’s Corners’s Turner, Millais, and Lord Leighton; Arthur Sullivan of Gilbert and Sullivan (near the OBE Chapel), Sir Henry Wellcome, Florence Nightingale, William Blake, T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) and George Washington.
Directly under the dome, Lord Nelson’s Tomb features a black marble sarcophagus, originally made for Cardinal Wolsey, Lord Chancellor, which had been in storage for a few hundred years after Wolseley fell out of favour with Henry VIII when he could not arrange a papal annulment to end his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. More interesting to me is that his coffin was made from the timber of a French ship he defeated in battle.