Brandy Williams & Alexis Campbell
St. Paul’s Cathedral is regarded as a significant place of worship in the Church of England. Its history of destruction—by the Great Fire of London and a large bomb which destroyed the High Altar during WWI—followed by reconstruction and re-erection each time serves as a strong metaphor for Christianity as well as mimicking the stories of various people who lived troubled lives before rededicating themselves to the Church. By the time that Dickens writes Oliver Twist, St. Paul’s Cathedral had been standing for around 200 years, and it was the tallest building in London from 1710-1967, so Dickens undeniably would have been very familiar with the building solely because of its distinction.
In the novel
Because of the prominence of St. Paul’s Cathedral within the Church of England, it is strongly analogous to the religion, which comes under fire in Oliver Twist. Dickens critiques the Church as an institution, rather than the ideology itself, which reflected in his personal life as well.
The sun […] burst upon the crowded city in clear and radiant glory. Through costly-coloured glass and paper-mended window, through cathedral dome and rotten crevice, it shed its equal ray.
One of the recurring themes in Oliver Twist is the contrast between high-class Londoners and lower-class Londoners. High-class Londoners viewed lower-class Londoners with disdain, because they were impoverished and the morally unjust members of society (through their perspective); they were thieves and prostitutes, and they were leeching off of the government as a result of their poverty. This ideology is known as moral absolutism, or the idea that poor people will act like citizens with low moral values (such as theft and prostitution), while higher class citizens will continue to do good unto society. This leads to Dickens’ critique of moral absolutism, for many of the characters in Oliver Twist challenge the ideals that moral absolutism presents. Once instance is when Mr. Bumble misappropriates a quote directly from the Bible—in which Jesus speaks of honoring children—using it to describe a child as a burden.
Dickens also shows this in the way that unsavory characters such as Mr. Bumble rely on cruel measures and mistreatment of the poor in order to establish and maintain his power over them, despite doing it all in the name of the Church. Also, Oliver (an impoverished child) finds himself unable to do a bad deed without feeling immense guilt.
Our Journey Outside of the Cathedral
Before going inside, we took a leisurely walk around the outside of the Cathedral, taking in the gardens and external architecture. There were lots of people in and around the gardens, resting, watching their small children run around, or just people-watching. On our walk around the property, we saw pigeons with what we thought were unique coloring–black and white, sable and white … Basically anything besides the usual gray and green. One of the pigeons we saw was absolutely enormous. Around the front (West Entrance), there were lots of groups of people gathered on the steps. Today, the Cathedral was also hosting a disabled access day, so there were a lot of signs and balloons and volunteers helping with that event. One thing we found puzzling, which Alexis noticed first, was the fact that on the north side of the building, there were several little nooks that were empty, which was weird to us because it seemed like they should have had statues there. Once inside with our multimedia guides (included in the price of admission), we found out the reasoning behind those little nooks.
Our Journey Through the Cathedral
We spent a long time at St.Paul’s. There were endless amounts of statues and memorials to read and ruminate upon. It wasn’t a surprise because the Cathedral is so rich in history. We walked throughout the cathedral floor, the crypt, and one of the top levels. Tl;dr it was intense. The cathedral floor and crypt were not too bad, but getting to the Whispering Gallery was a bit of a hike. Unfortunately, the highest parts of St. Paul’s (the Stone Gallery and the Golden Gallery) were closed for renovation; however, we were still able to walk through the Whispering Gallery. To get there, you have to walk up 257 narrow winding steps. Brandy has a fear of heights, and you definitely know how high up you are when you climb those seemingly million steps, but it was 100% worth it. We weren’t able to experience the whispering effect ourselves (although we heard other people whispering, just not each other), but the view of the Dome from the top was breathtaking.
Alexis’ favorite part: seeing William Holman Hunt’s “The Light of the World” in real life. It was much larger than I expected and just as unbelievable as I thought it would be. The lantern that Jesus holds in the painting looks like it is emitting true light. I am still in disbelief with how realistic the painting looks.
Brandy’s favorite part: seeing the intricate details of the work on the interior. I love small details, so seeing such fine work in the limestone carvings, the gold in the ceilings, the mosaics and paintings in the ceilings, and the woodworking near the choir seats was amazing. Bill Viola’s performance art piece was intriguing–kind of cool, but definitely kind of weird, but not really a bad weird.