Yes, we made it. So did hundreds of others. Little realising that the cathedral was such a popular tourist spot, we arrived at the end of a long queue to pay the entrance fee. An excellent audio guide added £4, but was worth every penny. And it is a really remarkable building. The guide gives historical background to the debates about the building and its decorations, with the Reformation much closer then than now. Church leaders wanted plain, not anything that reminded of Rome and Romishness. Over the years much has been added to bring colour; my favourite is the mosaics of broken coloured glass in the ceiling high over the Quire-three shallow domes showing creation’s phases. In places it’s clear how the politics of European struggles and then imperial affairs dominated public perceptions; the famous are interred with a singular lack of humility, apart from Christopher Wren, the cathedral’s designer, who lies under a simple slab with a nearby wall plaque inscribed in Latin chosen by his son to explain who lies there. Horatio Nelson’s tomb was designed for a cardinal who fell out with his monarch, the cardinal’s hat being replaced by a coronet to transform the tomb from ecclesiastical to military. Another change in practice was that of commemorating ordinary soldiers who fell in battle, rather than their magnificent leaders. This was a 20th Century change, probably after the magnificent buffoons in charge caused so many deaths by misunderstanding how warfare needed to accommodate new weaponry during World War I. Beyond the high altar is a chapel commemorating the US fighters who died in the second World War. Instead of huge stonework a glass case displays a book inscribed with the names of the fallen; yesterday dozens of Wilsons were listed. A page is turned each day. My wife had major heart problems last year; this year she is so much better that she ventured to climb up to the whispering gallery, then up to the stone gallery and finally up to the golden gallery, 528 steps and 85 metres above the cathedral floor. For me, I enjoyed the misty views over London, but as much the sight of centuries old brickwork that forms the inner dome high above the intersection of nave and transept below.
19 February, 2010