Tuesday, 8 July 2008

St. Paul's Cathedral and Library: 7 July 2008

Faciendi Plures Libros Nullus Est Finis
(Of Making books there is no end)

Our tour of St. Paul's began appropriately with the introduction of our guide, Joe Wisdom. He was a personable and enthusiastic librarian with many a comic quip. Mr. Wisdom led us to the Dean's Stairs or the Geometric Stairs (you may be interested to know that a portion of Harry Potter was filmed on those stairs). The spiral staircase leads up to the Triforium and library. Everywhere one looks there are clues to where the library is located. there are stone-carved books above the doorways and within the friezes inside the library chambers.

Before making our way into the library we saw the famous "BBC view" of the Cathedral where many of the great moments in St. Paul"s have been taped. WE continued on to discover a "cemetery" of pulpits. A Mr. Wisdom compared, Henry James says Americans go to Paris when they die, pulpits go to St. Paul"s Triforium.

We then made our way into the first of two chambers which comprise the library. This chamber contained the friezes mentioned above and the original model of St. Paul's Cathedral. This "Great Model" was designed by architect Christopher Wren in 1673-74 and is made of oak and plaster on a scale of 1:25. It cost Wren £600 to complete, the equivalent of a good London home. However, this model is not the same as the St. Paul's Cathedral which its visitors view today. it was rejected for political reasons of appearing a little too Catholic. (It is reminiscent of St. Peter's.)

Our next destination was the second chamber of the library. Mind you that we proceed through large wooden doors that were opened by those almost mythological, giant keys. As I walked through the door I caught a cedar-like smell in the air. My eyes slowly adjusted to the diffused light streaming in from the South facing windows and discovered a librarians dream. The walls were covered in books from floor to ceiling. A gallery ran along the upper portion of the room. The dimness gave way to light as my eyes traveled up the shelves of books and friezes to a white, high-arched ceiling that allowed the light from the windows to reflect below. the chamber itself was dark with wooden shelves and carved brackets supporting the gallery. The books were leather-bound and exquisite. upon closer observation, I noted that each portion of wall had a number and each shelf a number. The larger books appeared to be on the lowest shelf and growing smaller as the shelves got higher. Mr. Wisdom later confirmed that indeed the books are classified by size and that shelf or press marks (similar to the U.S. call number) denoted a book's placement. It is clear that a good catalog is necessary to locate particular books.

The center of the room was covered with high desks and wooden benches. The desks were covered with busts and books. one of the books laid out was a Psalter (book of Psalms) dating back to the late 12th or early 13th century. It is the oldest book within the collection and it was amazing to think I was a few mere steps from it. Had I dared, I could have reached out and touched it. The core of the collection is made up of theology books, bibles and liturgies. however, it does include the Journals of the House of Collins and Earls, Civil history, civil and canon law, science, art, medicine, etc.

I was amazed to discover how inept the environment was for such a collection. the room is "clearly compromised" by outside factors such as the south facing windows allowing light in, the fireplace and the visitors who come in and out. Nevertheless, I am glad that I was a visitor whom they allowed to view such a spectacular and historical collection.

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