Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Battle of the Cathedrals

 To begin, I will first share with you my lunch experience today (similar to most of my meals here in London) with a five-photo story to the right… starring me! My meal was eaten at a little bakery in Salisbury, and consisted of “Old English Tea” (the exact title on the menu), a cheesy brie and herb soup, with a big chunk of bread and butter. But yet again, I ate way too much!

But, believe it or not, I haven’t just been stuffing my face with delicious food during my trip. I’ve also been paying careful attention to what our guides tell us on our daily excursions; part of my goal in writing blog posts everyday is to test my memory. And the other part is that I just love history.
 And so with this in mind, let me give you, my faithful audience, a quick recap of the past two days. Yesterday, our group visited the Museum of London. As I was explaining to a friend earlier, the British Museum is about all cultures under the sun (don’t be fooled by the name!); the Museum of London, on the other hand, is actually about the city of London. Afterwards, our group walked down a couple blocks to St. Paul’s Cathedral (which I will talk more about later).

Stonehenge! Where the demons dwell/
Where the banshees live/ And they do live well
Today, we all hopped on a bus and took a two-hour ride through the countryside to Stonehenge! Though visitors are not allowed to get right next to those big, giant rocks, it is still very impressive from afar. Many people assume the Druids were the ones who built Stonehenge, but in fact the structure predates them by thousands of years. No one knows for sure why Stonehenge was built, but it is believed to be associated with funeral rites as well as having an astrological significance, because of the many ancient burial mounds found nearby.

Just a half hour away is the small town of Salisbury, home to the Salisbury Cathedral. Thanks to Ken Follet’s Pillars of the Earth, you may have heard of this beautiful medieval church. Building of the church began in 1220 A.D., in the gothic style popular at the time. It is the tallest medieval structure ever built (the spire is over 400 feet tall), and the fact that it is still standing is amazing, considering that the foundation of the structure is only four feet deep! Though our guide did let us know that some of the pillars have begun to lean a bit with age (not too noticeable, thankfully).

Salisbury Cathedral
It’s interesting to see the different styles of churches just within one country, and nothing can serve as a better example than St Paul’s Cathedral. Like Salisbury, St. Paul’s was built to replace a church that stood on the same spot previously. The infamous Christopher Wren (an 17th century architect who seems to have built everything in London) was put in charge of rebuilding St. Paul’s after the great London fire of 1666. Wren wanted a dome-shaped church similar to St. Peter’s in Rome; the Anglican church officials, on the other hand, did not want St. Paul’s to look like a Catholic church, especially not the seat of the Vatican! They preferred the gothic style of other Anglican churches, like Salisbury and Westminster Abbey. Yet through some deviousness, Wren was able to build the structure the way he wanted, with a dome 365 feet tall. At the time it was built, it was the tallest structure in London.

St. Paul's peeking out through office buildings
The church is also different than other gothic churches in the addition of a lower floor crypt. The tombs of famous individuals are housed in a beautiful crypt one floor below the main church. This is the exact opposite of Salisbury, which has tombs and gravestones directly beneath tourists’ feet on the main floor. Decoration is also significantly different. Gorgeous mosaics of Biblical scenes are placed on the ceilings and dome interiors throughout St. Paul’s. In Salisbury, many of these same scenes are depicted instead in the stained glass windows. When building St. Paul’s Wren specifically stated he did not want stained glass; he preferred to let as much natural light into the building as possible, to make everything look lighter and more open.

No photography is allowed inside of St. Paul’s, so I don’t have any images to back up my descriptions. But trust me when I say that St. Paul’s Cathedral is one of, if not the most, beautiful church I have ever seen. I can understand why Princes Diana wanted to have her wedding ceremony there instead of at Westminster Abbey. Salisbury Cathedral is impressive more in its construction than in its appearance (at least in comparison to St. Paul’s, which is much more aesthetically pleasing). It was a close match, but I’d have to say that I personally prefer St. Paul’s. That is, if I had to choose one over the other J


  1. European churches are something else. Stunning architecture and unprecedented levels of ornateness. I'm disappointed that tourists can't actually go up to the the stones at Stonehenge. But it makes sense why they can't. I really like the design of the Salisbury Cathedral, but I have a certain love for gothic architecture which is what I dig about Chicago so much. Lastly I've been waiting for you to talk about the food you've been eating. Glad you finally broke the seal so to speak. lol

  2. I guess I'm not as big a fan of the gothic cathedral as you are. I liked the open, airy whiteness almost of St. Paul's. I wish I could have taken pictures inside, b/c it really was beautiful :)

    And yes, I have been eating like a pig here! There is one fabulous Indian restaurant right near our flat that is delicious. We've been twice , and are planning on going a third time! And I now have a theory that the closer you get to France, the better the pastries. Every morning I go out and have coffee, and some kind of croissant (chocolate, almond, or hazelnut).....amazingly delicious!!!

    So there is my mini post on food... just for you :)