Wednesday, March 28, 2007

St. Paul's and Beyond

I've managed, somehow, never to go to St. Paul's Cathedral in London. I've been to the Tower and Westminster Abbey zillions of times, but the third in the holy trinity of London tourism has always evaded me for some reason. So yesterday, I finally made it there.

I was a little underwhelmed. I hadn't realized how closely it mimics St. Peter's in Rome, right down to the baldacchino over the high altar. (quod non fecerunt barbari, fecerunt Wren?) And of course, it can't really match up to St. Peter's in size or sense of majesty. In fact, I was quite struck by how unspiritual the whole affair seemed. It's ironic that Westminister, which as a Royal Peculiar is more officially nationalist than St. Paul's, feels much more religious. I don't think it is just the Gothic versus early neo-classical architecture, but I can't quite put my finger on what the difference is. At first I thought it was because the cathedral seemed oddly tatty. There wasn't a ton of interior detail, and what details there were seemed a bit rough. But then, I've been to some other cathedrals that also seemed plain inside, like the one in St. Albans, or even the cathedral in Cuernevaca, Mexico. Those cathedrals were once more ornate, but at some point in history had been ransacked (by Henry the XIII and leftists, respectively.) But I found their plain interiors rather beautiful, whereas for me St. Paul seemed oddly institutional, like the community room stuck on to the back of a Methodist church. Of course, Mary the Presybeterian looked at the altar and sniffed that there was an awful lot of gold. Guess it's all about perspective.

I do admit that there was a great view from the top, however. I had to swallow my claustrophobia a bit to make it up the 300 steps of a tiny, crowded spiral staircase, but it was quite lovely. The picture above is from the top, looking southwest towards the London Eye and Parliament beyond.

Afterwards we made a quick trip to the Tate Modern, to check out the infamous slides that are installed in the atrium. We each went down the short one, which had less of a line. Then it was off to the National Gallery, to check out the free exhibition "From Manet to Picasso." It's just a temporary exhibit to give a home to some of the famous impressionist and post-impressionist artworks from the permanent collection which are displaced by a touring show. It was nice to see some oldies but goodies of impressionism, but I wasn't very impressed with the curacy--I wish they had been more creative in their "redisplay." One treat was seeing a Hammershøi, an artist I didn't know of but who we quite liked.

Today: work!

1 comment:

pete said...

Yeah, I have to admit that I've been pretty underwhelmed by nearly all of Sir Christopher's handiwork I've seen.