In Photos: St Paul’s Summer Lates
Before they relaxed their ‘no photography’ rule, St Paul’s Cathedral used to open for select Summer dates to encourage photography.
As a blue badge guide I regular take people inside this magnificent space and I wanted to share my favourite visual details with you!
Tip: you can get a fantastic view of the North transept and dome from Queens Head Passage near Paternoster Square!
To Start, a fun fact
See that ball at the top of St Paul’s Cathedral?
That’s the one, just under the cross.
In the 1960s it was possible to climb a vertical ladder and actually stand inside the golden ball, peering through slits out onto London *gulp*.
It’s at a height of just shy of 365ft and apparently you could fit around 20 people inside it! Sadly with ‘ealth and safety today, you can only get as far as the railings.
Let’s Head Inside…
If you enter through the right hand side security, on your immediate right (even before they check tickets) is the Dean’s Stair.
You might recognise it as the entrance to Professor Trelawney’s divination classroom in the Harry Potter films, but in real life it was built in 1705. Appearing to float, the 88 Portland stone steps rise for 50 ft and aren’t built into the masonry. Each step is specifically shaped to bear the weight of the next!
Not that you need much encouragement…
Wren’s original plan for the interior dome was mosaics, but in the end James Thornhill was commissioned to paint a monochrome series of the life of St Paul.
Mosaics do make an appearance though, on the eight spandrels (triangular parts) which were finished in late 1800s.
If you can drag your eyes away from the ceiling, the wood carvings deserve attention too. They were completed by Grinling Gibbons, Wren’s go-to-man for sculptural decoration, in the 1690s.
Quire means the same as choir, but often is used in the architectural sense rather than the singing young boys sense. I like using it to seem architecturally fancy.
You can’t actually stand inside the quire, (it’s reserved for the choir), but you can admire the jaw-dropping mosaics.
They’re a lot more recent – completed by William Blake Richard in 1896 – and were a reaction to the common consensus at the time that St Paul’s needed brightening up. When Queen Victoria eventually said that it was “dull, cold, dreary and dingy”, the cathedral took note.
The East End
This is another relative newbie. After a WWII bomb destroyed a large part of the East end, the High Altar was finished in 1958.
The canopy, made of marble and carved oak, was based on sketches by Wren that never got completed.
But also head behind the High Altar to the American Chapel. There you’ll find a small space dedicated to the 28,000 Americans who gave their lives in WWII. The chapel itself is full of US symbols but a tony hidden detail is a space rocket!
It’s hard to make out but is nestled under foliage above the birds and flowers in the wood carvings and you’ll find it on the far right hand side. Look for the stars!
It was included as a sneaky reference to the US Space Program and their achievements in Space.
Of the hundreds of monuments in St Paul’s I just wanted to share my favourite.
John Donne (1572-1631) was known for his sensual poetry and womanising, so probably not someone you’d expect to see in this holy place.
He was also born into a Catholic family, but his ambition got the better of him and after his younger brother Henry was arrested for hiding a Jesuit priest he abandoned Catholicism, even writing prose against it and joining the English army in fighting against Catholic Spain. He joined the Protestant priesthood in 1615 and was made Dean of St Paul’s only 6 years later, his passion for dramatic poetry being a good background for rousing sermons.
As you might have spotted by the dates, this effigy dates from before the Great Fire and was carved by Nicholas Stone the Elder in 1631. In dramatic fashion the whole tomb fell through the floor of the burning cathedral around the 4th September 1666 and managed to survive the fire.
Don’t miss the Crypt
If tombs are you bag, then you need to explore the crypt, full of Britain’s great and good, including Lord Nelson, Duke of Wellington and JMW turner.
Only have time for one? Make it Christopher Wren’s understated tomb;
Paraphrasing the Latin inscription, it reads:
“Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you.”
You can visit the Cathedral all year round Monday – Saturday (including a steep climb to see the view from the dome!) Head to their website for timings and pricing here. They now allow photography at all times, as long as you’re respectful and – please – no selfie sticks.
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Katie these are wonderful photographs! I think I am right in saying that St Paul’s do not allow photography during normal admission times. I considered going to one of the Photography Lates last year, but wasn’t sure whether the Cathedral would allow use of tripods; I mean, it’s quite a dark environment inside there! Did you use a tripod for these images? Did you also know that Southwark Cathedral have candlelit photography evenings reasonably regularly? https://cathedral.southwark.anglican.org/whats-on/21218-winter-candlelit-photography-evening/
You’re absolutely right. This was a special evening when photography was allowed! They will probably have more in future, it was called ‘Summer Lates’
Hi Katie, I enjoy following you on Twitter and instagram and enjoyed this post. Please would you correct the spelling of “Alter” in the piece above- in the church sense it’s “Altar”. Sorry!
Thanks so much for your eagle eyes! I have amended accordingly 🙂 Glad to hear you enjoy the posts. Best wishes, Katie
Thanks, you can delete this now if you like! Congrats on passing your Blue Badge exams. One day I will come on one of your tours!
Thanks Catherine, that would be lovely!
Stephen Lewis Sheppard
Look-Up just gets better…nice work Kate…..As a very senior Londoner you have my seal of approval.
An honour! Thank you Stephen 🙂
I visited St Paul’s cathedral last year, on a Saturday afternoon. Just as we were leaving (around 5pm I think) there was an Evensong service starting so we took the opportunity to go back inside and attend the service. As we milled towards the front to take a seat, one of the staff / clergy directed a random group of us to file down the left hand side and we ended up ushered into the quire, where sat and enjoyed the short service. What a privilege! So you can enter the quire, in certain circumstances.
Good to know! Thanks Hilary, sounds like a fabulous experience!