Just to prove I wasn’t spending all my time packing, I went to St. Paul’s Cathedral today. If you remember one of the first cathedrals we went to was Westminster, with Scar the Audioguide, so it only seems fitting. The two cathedrals are like two sisters who preside over the souls of London. Westminster is the older sister, a little outdated in her dress but she snagged the bulk of the royal burials as well as a site in the best neighborhood. The younger sister St. Paul’s has much drama in her past, such as the fire of 1666 (for which Christopher Wren designed her that bosom of a dome) and she braved the Blitz in far too obvious a fashion for Westminster’s taste. Ever since they mainly spend their time sending prayers to heaven and competing for the dead.
I didn’t realize St. Paul’s had its share of writers and artists (Ivor Novello!) as well as notables such as Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of penicillin, and the usual clutch of tributes to Lord Nelson. There are several scarred and melted icons who lost fingers and toes to the Great Fire. The plaques look strangely similar to the plaques in Westminster. Was someone moved? Promoted? Demoted?
Which makes me wonder about the whole selection process by which Westminster and St. Paul’s divvy up the departed. Perhaps it is a wrenching struggle. Perhaps it is a lottery system. Or maybe, if you are beloved of Britain but not a shoo-in for the crypt of your choice you have to die with a fat ten-pound note clutched in your hand, hoping that rigor mortis sets in before your nephew Larry the Nick comes to pay his last respects.
Aside from these irreverent thoughts I found St. Paul’s quite lovely, and one of the most interesting things in the gift shop were walnut-shaped foldout pocket portraits of saints for two pounds fifty each. What I did NOT find lovely was the plaque devoted to Lord Thomson of Fleet, one of the twentieth centuries’ barons of newspaper publishing. “A strange and adventurous man,” the plaque said, “from nowhere.” From Toronto, if you please. Grind it up and start again.