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I revere St Paul’s Cathedral but despair over its unholy TikTok visitors

I have loved the architecture of St Paul’s since I was a boy. But I’m not sure I can forgive the trespasses of the social media crowds and canoodling couples who come to play rather than pray in this and Britain’s other great ecclesiastical buildings, writes Jonathan Glancey

Sunday 21 January 2024 06:00 GMT
St Paul’s Cathedral viewed from the Millennium Bridge
St Paul’s Cathedral viewed from the Millennium Bridge (Getty/iStock)

I would be old – I told myself when very young – before I could no longer race to the top of St Paul’s. But Christopher Wren’s cathedral was never simply a giant climbing frame or urban peak to be conquered. As I climbed to the top of the lonely ladder – with its reward of wind-bitten, eagle views over London from right under the golden ball and cross at the very tip of the lantern crowning the outer dome – I was absorbing the genius of the building’s design and structure. Its spirit, music and poetry, too. I remain quietly excited and deeply fond of the architecture of St Paul’s. I will, though, have to find another way of reckoning advancing age.

While I could happily dash to the top of the cathedral today – although that compelling solo ladder to the very top has long been out of bounds – I no longer want to. While I might yet change my mind, my last visit to St Paul’s shortly before Christmas, and the first in several years, came as something of a shock. A purgatorial shock. It was not so much the £24 entrance fee and the otherwise perfectly civil man on the desk’s pointless persistence that I should take a headphone audio guide with me, nor the flak-like flashing of batteries of mobile phones outsmarting candlelight, nor even the un-hushed chatter resounding through the nave, but the singular, unholy scene enacted under the inner dome itself that caused me to turn and walk back out into the chill of Ludgate Hill.

To whom and to what effect I do not know, a clergywoman – small and subfusc in that cavernous space – had been reciting the Lord’s Prayer. Did she see the bling couple posing and canoodling for a wannabe young film director – big physical moves, baseball cap on backwards – taking centre stage together and blotting her from sound and view? Did she forgive them their trespasses? I do not know. She said she would be available to talk to anyone under the dome after prayers. I would have liked to have asked her, but I was out of there.

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