London, England: The City and St. Paul’s Cathedral

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Big as it is, London’s easy to get around in. And, once you’re
oriented, riding its double-decker buses can be both
efficient and fun. For me, enjoying the view from the top deck is one of the great treats of this city. We’re entering the historic core of London, the one-square-mile district locals call, simply,
“The City.” While only a few thousand people actually
live here, its 9 to 5 crowd numbers half a million. This is Britain’s “Wall Street,” thriving with big time commerce and packed
with banks. “The City” is also packed with history. This monument commemorates the
devastating fire of 1666— which started here and burned down nearly all of London. These reliefs show in heroic terms how city
leaders came together determined to rebuild. The great architect Christopher Wren was
chosen to spear-head the project. And the city that rose from the ashes of that fire
was decorated by the Wren-designed spires of some fifty churches. Christopher Wren spent four decades —the rest of his life— working on his grand vision. The centerpiece: this mighty cathedral,
St. Paul’s. Today, it’s the symbol of London’s resilience: its rise from the Great Fire and of London’s survival of the Blitz of WWII. The church is one of the world’s biggest. Wren accentuated its spaciousness by the lack
of decoration… notice the simple ceiling… and the clear glass lighting everything evenly. Today, only the west end of the church keeps
Wren’s original vision. In the 1800s, Queen Victoria called St. Paul’s “dim, dingy, and ungodly” so the east end of the church was then slathered with Victorian bling… beautiful Victorian bling. While the church’s survival in WWII was almost
miraculous, the apse of the church did take a direct hit and was destroyed. Today it’s rebuilt as the American memorial
chapel to honor our nation’s contribution to the defense of Britain. We see Jesus, Mary, and… George Washington. The American iconography includes stars, stripes and eagles. And hiding behind birds and plants native to the USA…it’s a U.S. rocket circa 1958, shooting up to the stars. The British are grateful to their WWII allies. The Roll of Honor lists the 28,000 American
servicemen based in Britain who gave their lives. Climbing the dome is like climbing a 30-story
building…with no elevator. And the reward… a commanding view of
London. Christopher Wren spent nearly half his life
working on St. Paul’s. At age 75, he got to see his son crown his masterpiece
with this golden cross.

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