The white building across the grey street sat like a regal giant against the London sky. It hurt my neck as I craned to see it towering towards the clouds. St Paul’s Cathedral isn’t just an important landmark in London; at 365 feet high, it dots the skyline too. If I’d known then that I’d have to climb more than 500 steps to make my way to the top, I’d probably never have gone in.
‘The Nave’–the long main entrance–welcomed me to the choir setting that glimmered with mosaic-dome and arches. The closest association I could make with the intricate interiors of this cathedral was that of the Mysore Palace back in the city of Mysore in India. But I’d never seen a house of God receive such palatial treatment before. It couldn’t have been an easy feat trying to build this monument. I could see that.
What I couldn’t see, however, was the impact of the several assaults this beauty of a structure had undergone before it looked like this. When I entered the choir area, I drew a sharp breath. Not because the carvings on the apse and the high altar were exquisite, but because my audioguide began to narrate that the altar was ruined due to a bombing in 1940, before being rebuilt.
Right from its birth in the 7th century as a small Norman-Anglican church, St Paul’s had had a tough time standing its ground. Literally. In the 600s, the church caught a fire and had to be rebuilt. In the 900s, the Vikings destroyed it during their invasion, calling for a rebuild–this time with stone. Being rock-solid seemed to help a little, if only for a while. In the 1500s, in quite a biblical fashion, the spire was hit by lightning. However, it only brought down the spire, while the rest of the church stood strong. The spire wasn’t rebuilt then–no points for guessing why–and thankfully so, because the Great Fire of London in 1666 claimed the rest of the church too.
Even as I tried to grapple with the information of such damages through the millennium, I made my way to the crypt area, wanting to pay homage to John Donne, one of my favourite poets. He stood there as a stone effigy, near the memorials for other honourable names–Florence Nightingale, William Blake, Alexander Fleming and many more. This peaceful crypt had been destroyed in the Great Fire, leaving only Donne’s effigy intact. That’s not all. The crypt had lost several precious artefacts to a major robbery in 1810.