Today 38 of those churches survive. The point here is: London has lots of churches. If you walk around downtown London, you’ll see one every few steps, and they’re all totally spectacular in their own way.
I love that religion is deeply seated in the culture of London, even if London is now in many ways — like the rest of the world — generally irreligious. European culture and cities are incredibly deep. It’s just part of the mix of feelings that you simply can’t avoid walking down the street. You just can’t find that in the States. There’s something indescribably powerful about being surrounded by humanity in a place where there have been masses of people for centuries. (I wish I could speak more eloquently about it, but let’s face it; this is a blog, so you are all subjected to my ramblings as they topple out of my head.)
Back to churches. Of course, London is not unique in this sense: Rome wouldn’t be Rome without the Vatican. Paris would not be Paris without Notre Dame. What's Florence without the Duomo? The list could go on. And London’s pièce de résistance? St. Paul’s.
St. Paul’s was one of the churches built by Sir Christopher Wren. It has the second largest dome in the world (after St. Peter’s at the Vatican). It’s huge. I am amazed at the amount of money, time, creativity, dedication, and other resources that went into buildings for worshipping God over the centuries. Especially when it was much more difficult and taxing. And yet it was ubiquitous. It’s compelling, beautiful and certainly demands some amount of consideration. You can’t help but think about it when you see such incredible buildings. You can just imagine how St. Paul’s appeared when all the other buildings were so small and the next tallest buildings were church spires. There is still a by-law that prevents any taller buildings from being erected within in certain radius of the cathedral.
I’ll end my post with a little excerpt from a book I’ve been reading. The description is actually about Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, but it’s fitting of all great churches I’ve visited. It explains the love I have for St. Paul’s, some portion of which is meted out into London culture, and why I’ll miss that part of London so much:
“Looking back at that moment [when I first visited], I understand that I had lived in books so long, in my narrow university setting [or whatever occupies your time], that I had become compressed by them internally. Suddenly, in this echoing house of Byzantium – one of the wonders of history – my spirit leaped out of its confines. I knew in that instant that, whatever happened, I could never go back to my old constraints. I wanted to follow life upward, to expand with it outward, the way this enormous interior swelled upward and outward. My heart swelled with it, as it never had during all my wandering among the Dutch merchants [insert your wandering here].”