Monday, July 5, 2010

St. Paul's Cathedral Library

We were a large enough group that we split up first to go to St. Paul's Cathedral (I was in the smaller group that opted for the tube instead of a bus) and then to tour the library. On the way we stopped for a group picture by the Temple Bar, one of the original gates of London where many impressive personages have passed through and others were spitted and displayed after their execution. When we entered the cathedral I was in the group that went up first, while the other group meandered around the cathedral. Led by the librarian, Joseph Wisdom, we headed up the south-west triforium (curved stone staircase) up to where the door leading to the library branched off. I was glad that we only had to go up that far, because the fact that the stairs were wide but short and the alternating pale stone with black strips of gripping tape were beginning to make me feel a bit dizzy. First on the tour was the lapidarium, the in-house part of the stone collection which featured fragments of the pre-Great Fire of London cathedral. You can access the full history of the cathedral in all of its reincarnations here, in a neat and tidy timeline. Then we passed further down the hall and stopped by the door of a study, over which was inscribed a quote from Ecclesiasted 12:12 in Latin: "Faciendi plures libros nullus est finis," or "Of making books there is no end." The next stop on the tour was the "BBC view," so nicknamed because the spot high on the balcony in the very back of the cathedral is where the BBC cameras set up most often for events.  Then it was on to one of the original library rooms which was never used as a library, and now houses the great model of what the architect Sir Christopher Wren had originally planned for the cathedral. Why was the original plan not carried out? Because it looked rather similar to St. Peter's in Rome, and that wasn't the most politically sound idea at the time.
Finally came the library itself, a medium-sized room filled from floor to tables to ceiling with old books. The room was filled with the pungent aroma of old books and their maladies. The librarian explained that part of the sent was a result of "off-gassing," a chemical reaction between the materials and their environment. Along the tour we learned such fascinating facts as that there is always a cathedral archeologist on staff. All the names of the librarians from the mid-17th century are known, and until the mid-20th century they were all in orders. There are four extant Wren libraries, the largest being located at Trinity college at Cambridge. The library collection is very focused in its acquisitions, only accepting works on Wren, the life and history of the Church of England, and alumni material. According to the librarian, they are frequently offered Bibles of loved ones passed away, which they cannot accept but are more than willing to find new loving homes for. There was a time for answering questions, and when someone asked what the specific system in use for organizing the many items scattered about the tables, the whimsical answer was "Is there a method to the madness? Yes. Is there madness? Yes!"
After the tour we were set loose to wander about the cathedral, which was absolutely magnificent. You can take a virtual tour of the cathedral, if you'd like.  No photos taken of the interior may be posted online, so I am very grateful to Wikipedia and to the St. Paul's site for these images.

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