Where to begin? Cathedrals are meant to inspire awe by their nature but St Paul’s Cathedral has the added responsibility of demonstrating the authority of the monarchy at a time when it’s power was absolute. The spectacle begins before the cathedral comes wholly into view. One first sees its massive dome in the distance, standing over 30 stories in the sky; We were fortunate to have the bonus of the sound of bells beckoning people to come forth. It is a siren sound that is difficult to resist investigating today and must have been more so a few centuries ago.
When approaching the cathedral from the front, the magnitude of the structure becomes apparent. Two tall towers on the ends with two stories of paired columns lining the entrance and, of course, the famed dome. I had a sense of unworthiness when entering such a magnificent building. I wondered if this was intentional. If the idea is to make the person feel small in this house of worship and make it easier to give them self over to the message being preached.
Once inside I was met by bright whites on every surface save for the ceiling. The ceilings were adorned with brightly painted images that I cannot attempt to describe but the meaning of these paintings seemed apparent to me. They are meant to keep a person’s glance upward. We are small, the almighty is great and you are in his house, in his presence. This was mimicked with the window placement and choices of glass as well. Light shines in from above and we are bathing in this light.
As I walked around the cavernous space, I found it noteworthy that the monuments located in the cathedral are not of the religious variety but rather national. There were monuments to the Duke of Wellington, Vice Admiral Lord Horatio Lord Nelson and many other military officers in the British armed services. This struck me as a grand propaganda, worthy of the spectacle the building is meant to inspire. The imagery between the Anglican church and England as a country merged seamlessly to say “Our military is carrying out our divine right to rule.” This makes perfect sense as the head of the church and the head of state are one in the same.
The spectacle of the service was not foreign to me having attended a handful of catholic masses. The organist plays, the procession enters while the choir sings, etc. All meant to create a grand scene to take the individual out of being one and giving themselves over to something greater. It is beautiful to be in that moment, to be released from self, to be at peace. While I don’t get it, I do believe I understand it. It is a grand spectacle