Sunday, 19 July 2009

St. Paul's Cathedral Library - 7/13/09

On Monday, July 13th, we were given the rare privilege of touring the library at St. Paul’s Cathedral. We bypassed a throng of people waiting in line with purchased tickets in hand to glimpse the inside of this exceptional London landmark. The Librarian, Joe Wisdom, led us through a large set of doors and into a stairwell with an ornate set of spiral stairs leading to the upper level of the massive cathedral. (These are the same spiral staircase that can be seen in the various Harry Potter films!)

194 dizzying steps later we arrived at the top floor of the cathedral. I have to say, that climbing this magnificent staircase was a bit unnerving, due to the fact that there were no visible means of support. They were just sticking out of the wall! This upper level reminded me of a backstage area of a great theater, with unused treasures strewn about. One interesting thing that I noticed were the set of keys being carried around by Mr. Wisdom. It was an ancient looking key ring with several oddly and uniquely shaped keys. They reminded my of something that a sheriff would have carried around in the wild wild west. I couldn’t help but wonder what other doors and hidey holes they would open.

When Mr. Wisdom opened the door to the St. Paul’s Library, I felt like I had stumbled several hundred years back in time. We were shown into a small, quaint, but quite crowded one room library. This room appeared to be a fantasy, right out of the movies. The antique books were shelved against the walls, and there was a comfortable looking fireplace tucked away to one side. There were several busts and paintings of men whom I’m sure held some significance to the cathedral at one time or another. Tucked away in the corner of the room, hiding behind several old beautifully bound books was an old, outdated computer that appeared to be very out of place among this great collection. The masonry around the upper walls was intricate and full of various library symbolism including depictions of grapes, skulls, wheat, and books.

The collection is theologically based and consists of 20,000 bibliographic items and 13,500 physical volumes. These consist of prayer books, biographies, philosophical works and religious studies. I did catch a glimpse among all these old and ancient books of the bright red cover of a “Who’s Who 2006”, which along with the old computer, rather stood out like a sore thumb. One item of special interest that Mr. Wisdom pointed out was a late 12th/early 13th century book of Psalms.

As fascinating as this collection is, it is not the original, as that was lost in the Great Fire of London in 1666. I was a bit disappointed that we were unable to wander around more. We were confined to this little roped in area at the entrance way. I do understand though because of the delicacy of this rare collection, and I was thankful that were able to see it at all.

Link to St. Paul's Cathedral

Link to St. Paul's Cathedral Library

St. Paul's Cathedral
*Photo courtesy

St. Paul's Cathedral Library
*Photo courtesy


  1. wow, when you said small i pictured a much smaller room. I guess the actual square footage area is smaller but the depth of the room makes it look, in the picture anyways, very large. It sounded as though it were awe inspiring. was the room in the center dome area or in one of the towers in front? from your pdescription and the photo i feel as though this was an extraordinary library.

  2. this is sooo cool i wish i could have been there! too bad about it not being the original collection though, and that you were restricted to a very small area, with your special priveleges and private tour especially. But I'm glad you get to experience so many interesting libraries as well as other places on your journey!