London is not to be loved at first sight. You must get to know her. The more of her history you know, of course, the more fascinating she becomes.
-O.S.C., Parents’ Review No. 44, 1933
This was my second short visit to London and it’s true – the more you know about her, the more wonderful the visit seems. I suppose that is true about much in life. This visit, I knew I wanted to visit St. Paul’s Cathedral. St. Paul’s came alive for me this past year because we focused on it for our Architecture lessons. But it was this section in the book The Wonderful Winter that first placed the idea of a visit, and the hike to the top, in my mind many years ago.
He could not help catching his breath sharply when the great bulk of St. Paul’s Cathedral loomed in front of him. A steady stream of people went in and out, laughing and talking and arguing, and it seemed to Robin that the Londoners must be a very energetic race. He slipped inside and stared up in hushed silence at the great arches that soared over his head. They had a kind on ancient stillness that took no notice of the chattering, silk-clad citizens who milled about the base of the holy stone. There was an organ somewhere, but it could hardly be heard over the noise of the talking…he turned up the crooked, dark little stairway that led to the roof. He began counting the steps as he went up, and by the time he had reached two hundred and fifty it seemed to him that he must be climbing to the rim of the world. His breath came short, although perhaps it was only with excitement. He went on counting, just as he reached three hundred there was daylight again and birds flying overhead…Robin looked down over the edge and forgot both his cap and the people. He even forgot the hunger that had stalked him all day. He stared down with his mouth open in sheer delight, for beneath him was the whole of London. It lay like a tapestry, like a jewel, like a toy city, gleaming in the late afternoon light with the river cutting through it like a ribbon of silk. It was the true city of his dreams, and Robin drew a deep breath and stood still in enchantment.
– The Wonderful Winter by Chute, p. 52-53
Now the St. Paul’s described here was actually burned down during the Great Fire of 1666. What I visited was the magnificent structure designed and built by Christopher Wren and completed in 1711. I will share one touching and fascinating story with you. We took a private tour with our elderly guide, Jean. At one point, she elaborated on the story of how during WWII private citizens watched for bombs to be dropped at night. If they were dropped, they risked their lives to carry them off and away in an attempt to save the beloved landmark. Can you imagine? I asked many questions and finally wondered if any books were written about this particular activity – surely this has been written about and would make a fantastic movie! Well, Jean started to tear up. She said that the Dean at the time wrote a book and only made 2,000 copies – now very hard to find. She told us that someone who knew how much this event moved her paid a lot of money to secure her a copy which is now in her possession. It is miraculous that the cathedral was unharmed as you can see the results of the bombings all around the cathedral even today.
There are many more stories to tell but I’ll let you discover them for yourself! But do learn about St. Paul’s and visit if you can. The great cloud of witnesses that are buried there was overwhelming and so inspiring. The sacredness of the place was palpable, the beauty simply awesome.Do sign up for a free private tour. One more thing – I knew I would get to see The Light of the World by Holman Hunt. We came around a little corner to a special chapel and there it was, rising above us! Have you done this picture study with me at some event? Then you know how much it means to me. The first 2 copies were painted around 1851 and were much smaller. This last copy was painted 50 years later by Hunt and is life-size. It is arguably the most celebrated religious painting ever. (See Holman Hunt & The Light of the World by Jeremy Maas.)
All this to encourage you as you journey through this living education. Not only do your children’s minds feed on ideas, but also your mind. Who knows where you might go and what you might see in the future? Meanwhile, keep up with the ideas…for all of you.
Teaching from peace,
You mentioned focusing on St. Paul’s for your Architecture lessons – could you please share more about what you do and what resources you use for Architecture lessons? I appreciate it so much – thank you, and thanks for this lovely article!
Thanks for dropping by, Cheri! Well, we’ve used multiple resources over the years for Architecture. Just prior to this trip, we had read through Architecture As Shown to the Children by Wynne (very living!). We also read parts of Looking at Buildings by Trent and Christopher Wren and St. Paul’s Cathedral by Gray. We read and narrated, as well as drew in our Architecture notebooks and Book of Centuries each week. Another favorite book is the 2 volume (Young People’s Story of Our Heritage) by Hillyer and Huey – the 8.5 x 11 versions with illustrations.
Amber Vanderpol says
Have you read Connie Willis’ two part novel, Blackout and All Clear? I don’t think it is her best work, but you would probably enjoy her descriptions of St. Paul’s Cathedral during WWII. The Light of the World figures rather prominently in the books too.
Those sound like my cup of tea, Amber! Thank you!
Amy Marie says
Sigh. Beautiful thoughts and memories, Nancy! I could just smell and feel the vastness, coolness, and beauty again. I really loved visiting cathedrals.