For as long as I can remember, my mom and I have always talked about how incredible it would be to listen to a choir sing in an ancient European cathedral. I’ve always loved choral music — I remember being the only one enthusiastic when my mom wanted to watch the Christmas special that would air on PBS from the choir at St. Olaf’s College — and I couldn’t wait to, I hoped, hear a choir sing in a European church. Just imagining it gave me chills, and now, looking back and remembering, it almost makes me cry.In fact, if we’re discussing tears, I should probably just admit that I cried when we visited St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. It didn’t help that when we stepped into the interior of the cathedral, a choir was filling the space with glorious voices, which only added to the emotional impact of the moment and brought me to tears. And not just a few silent tears that slipped out unnoticed. Oh no, I’m talking chin-quivering, shoulder-shaking sobs that turned into laughter and then into even more tears until I felt like an absolute hot mess and oh my gosh, people have to be looking at me like I’m nuts. My one consolation — and what actually turned out to be one of my favorite moments and a sweet memory — was that the same thing happened to my sister, at the same moment. We turned to look at each other with expressions and nervous, quavering giggles that said, “Oh gee, you too?! I’m so glad it’s not just me!” I think she describes it best, in the caption of one of her Instagrams from that day: “I cannot describe the flood of emotion that overwhelmed me when I walked in and looked up at [the dome of St. Paul’s] — particularly the thought of it standing through the horror of the Blitz. Although it was hit directly multiple times (including one bomb that destroyed the altar and blasted through to the crypt), the dome remained intact. And it became a symbol of survival to the Londoners. It was something that had never hit me until that moment. Favorite. Forever.”
I’m hard pressed to choose a favorite highlight from London (we all loved the city so much!), but St. Paul’s was a top contender. I will never be able to describe precisely what made it such an incredible experience… all I can say is that it was. Climbing all 528 steps (some of which were freakishly narrow and steep — Taylor and Austin almost had to turn sideways at one point near the very top) to the Golden Gallery provided the most stunning 360 degree view of London, and exploring the vast crypt was overwhelming and humbling.Since we didn’t actually tour Westminster, I can’t say with 100% authority that St. Paul’s is the best tour of a church you’ll find in London, but I certainly can say that it should not be missed.
In Dublin, we had the privilege of attending a choral evensong service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which was also a delight. St. Patrick’s didn’t have quite the impact on me that St. Paul’s did, but nonetheless, it was wonderful to experience a service in such a historic church.Of course, in Paris we visited the incredible Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, which delighted me to my fingertips. Whereas St. Paul’s reduced me to tears, Notre Dame just had me grinning from ear to ear, hardly able to believe that I was actually there looking up at the famous gargoyles and the imposing flying buttresses. The outrageous lines of people queuing to tour the cathedral’s interior almost had us turning around, but in the end, the interior was worth it, in my opinion, for the stained glass alone. Absolutely breathtaking. Had we not already climbed the Arc de Triomphe, we might have attempted climbing the Notre Dame tower — but alas, perhaps next time.
What other European cathedrals should I add to my bucket list? Join me & discuss in the comments!