It is not anywhere near dark here in London. But I’m in bed, under a heavy comforter, shawl wrapped around my shoulders for extra warmth, have just taken two aspirin and wonder if they will even begin to help with the sore muscles, and have a great sense of satisfaction.
Today, I walked up the 528 steps to the very top of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, stepped out onto the Golden Gallery, far above the ground, and gave Katie, my ten year old companion and cousin to my grandchildren here, a high five.
The first set of steps to the indoor Whispering Gallery were no big deal. Large, enclosed spiral staircase with short rises and a handrail on the outside edge made those steps doable and we very much enjoyed the view of the church from our perch point in the Gallery. The second set of steps, to the outside Stone Gallery, were much harder on me. Interior stone staircase, very steep spiral steps, no handrail, and some passages so narrow I could barely fit through. Fortunately, there were occasional rest benches on the small landings, so I was able to catch my breath when I needed to.
The last 150 steps terrified us both. Open spiral metal staircases where we could see all the way down and with only a handrail between us and painful oblivion had almost paralyzed us. At one point, we stopped on a small landing, again with the open metal work base and no real side protection, and said, “Can we do this?” In truth, we didn’t have any choice then. This staircase was for climbing only–no room for descending traffic. We either finished the climb or were never getting out. And I was very, very tired by then
We looked at each other solemnly. Then I said to Katie, “If we can finish this, there is nothing we can’t do. We’ll not have to be afraid again.” A deep breath later, we headed up again.
Once we got to the top, we walked the outside perimeter of the Golden Gallery and looked at London from our perch. Neither of us has any comfort up that high, but we both had a huge sense of satisfaction.
One huge challenge still in front of us: getting down.
As I was climbing the open metal stairs, I did think “I’m not sure I’ll be able to get down these.” I was managing the climb up by not looking down. That would no longer be an option on the way back down.
We found the “down” door off the narrow outside gallery. Katie went first. I was grateful she couldn’t see my terror and knew I needed to stay very calm for her sake . . . and my own.
There below me was what looked like an endless line of steep, narrow, open, metal, spiral stairs. There was no other way down.
Shortly after we began our descent, I heard the people coming just after me mention how hard this must be on someone with vertigo. I said, “You’ve just described me.” I offered to let them go ahead of me as I had to take these slowly, but they said, “Take your time, we’re not in any hurry.” I think they must have also prayed for me, because I did make it without mishap.
When we finally got back to the main floor of the Cathedral, we immediately stumbled to a couple of chairs and sat down to rest. My legs felt then, and still do to some degree, very much like rubber bands and were barely holding me up.
It was just before noon when we sat down. At each hour on the hour, a priest goes to the lectern and leads everyone there in a short intercession and the Lord’s Prayer. We joined in that prayer time and I felt some strength coming back into my body.
For the next two hours, Katie and I did a thorough exploration of the cathedral and crypt, taking about 30 minutes for a lovely salad luncheon in the Cafe that takes up a portion of the crypt. After paying our entrance fee, we had both been given an IPod and earphones with lots of explanations about various features of the Cathedral. Katie had been given the child’s version, which was MUCH MORE FUN than the adult version, and she learned an enormous amount of Cathedral history.
It was just a great day. I was able to pray much, and am ending this day ever more aware of the glory of God and the hope of the Gospel.