Saturday, August 15, 2015

St. Paul's Cathedral Library and Archive

St. Paul's Cathedral, London
Inside the iconic British cathedral, there is a cafe. Of course, above that lies the sanctuary, gilded, embossed, and brimming with ornate marble sculptures. And above that, one can find an even more spectacular feature: the library and archives.

Time constraints abbreviated our tour, but the highlights of the library and archives stood out nonetheless.

In the room intended by the architect to be the library, there are no books. Stonework embellishments of books clearly depict the envisaged use of the room, but instead of volumes, the room is dominated by a 1:24 scale model of the original planned architecture of St. Paul's. Made of wax and plaster, the 1673 model is reminiscent of St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome, and bears little resemblance to the famous London cathedral. 

Although St. Paul's is not a museum, they have designed and maintain some of their spaces as exhibition. The Model Room is arranged as a permanent exhibit, containing the history of the model and St. Paul's architecture. Similarly, The upper halls are crowded with stone, some dating back to viking era London, and pulpits used in St. Paul's. 

The gem, of course, would be the library at St. Paul's. Straight out of every bibliophile's dream, the library is crowded with leather-bound volumes, marble busts, statuettes, and the lovely, hushed aura which accompanies centuries old words. Cataloging, as with many UK institutions, is a bespoke affair which takes into account the sizes of the books when shelving. These are sturdy tomes, handcrafted, and as long as they are treated with care, they can survive indefinitely. And, stored in an attic 500 yards from the Thames, the collection is very well cared for.

Like much of Britain's cultural artifacts, the collections at St. Paul's were transferred off-site during WWII. In this case, lorries transported the library and archives to caves in Wales. The cathedral itself was targeted during the London Blitz and survived thanks to the work of vigilant soldiers. When the books returned to London, all were accounted for, and business carried on as usual.

Both cathedral and collections are gorgeous historical, visual, and cultural landmarks of London, and one cannot call a second of time wasted when in St. Paul's.

St. Paul's Survives, St. Pauls, London, 1940
National Archives,
Visit St. Paul's Cathedral Library online.

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