Day 13 of 80 — Cathedral

Around London in 80 days

In these uncertain times, I need a lifeline and a horizon so I have — somewhat arbitrarily I’ll admit — set a date. April 1st will be my horizon ; my lifeline will be the 80 days separating me from it.

And as I cannot go around the world right now, I give you A Mad Belgian’s “Around London in 80 Days” : eighty impressions of London, eighty stories, places, thoughts from my experience of this wonderfully mad and maddening city.

Day 13 : Cathedral

Early each day to the steps of Saint Paul’s
The little old bird woman comes
In her own special way to the people she calls
“Come, buy my bags full of crumbs”
(Mary Poppins)

I was first introduced to St Paul’s cathedral over twenty years ago by Mary Poppins, and so I will forever be particularly fond of this building.

It was many years later, however, that I actually walked in the cathedral for the first time. I was starting my training as a Blue Badge Tourist Guide, and St Paul’s was on the syllabus, so I went.

I will never forget that first visit. I didn’t know anything about the building nor its history ; I was not religious ; but the first step into this cathedral, the first impression, was truly breath-taking.

Slowly, in awe, I walked through the massive building (it somehow looked a lot larger on the inside than on the outside). I stood under the dome, taking in the immensity of the space around me. Then I started climbing it. There are 528 steps up to the highest gallery that goes around the dome, the Golden Gallery. It wasn’t easy : the steps were narrow, and so were the staircases. Breathing deeply to calm my claustrophobic tendencies, I was trying to reason myself. “This cathedral has been standing here for hundreds of years. There is absolutely no reason why it should collapse just today whilst you’re climbing it. Breathe. It’s all going to be alright.”

It seemed endless. Then, suddenly, the staircase brightened up and I was there : on the outside of the dome of St Paul’s cathedral, with the wind in my ears and a stunning view of London below me. A true “top of the world” feel.

Later, I actually became a Blue Badge Tourist Guide, and so I learned about the cathedral’s fascinating history, important burials, modern art and other secrets. If you decide to come one day, I’ll happily share those with you… as well as try and share this sense of awe I had on that first visit and kept ever since.

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