Uncommon Place Number Two

The Whispering Gallery of St. Pauls Cathedral

St. Pauls Cathedral sits on Ludgate Hill, the highest point of the one square mile that is the true City of London. Dedicated to St. Paul the Apostle, it dates back to a church on that site in A.D. 604.  The current church was built in the 17th century by Sir Christopher Wren and as it states therein, “If you seek his memorial, look about you.”

On September 7th, 1940, 348 bombers of the German Luftwaffe, guarded by 617 fighters started the Blitz of London.  Hitler had been bombing airfields and fuel storage tanks in preparation for his invasion of Britain.  This had not produced what he wanted and, in a rage, he ordered the destruction of inner London to de-moralize the British.  This was also a failure and in nine months he turned his eyes fatally to the east and attacked Russia in May, 1941.  The Blitz lasted until then and was also a failure for Hitler due to the rallying cries of Winston Churchill and his famous radio speeches on the BBC 9.00 pm News.  Nevertheless, in the first stage of the Blitz the devastation  of major parts of London was immense.  After a brief Christmas lull, the Blitz started again on December 29th and Churchill ordered all available volunteers to place themselves on and around St. Pauls Cathedral with sand bags and water to fight fires from the numerous incendiary bombs in order to stop its demise from lowering the British Spirit.  This was successful and St. Pauls was literally the only intact building in the actual City of London when the Blitz ended.

The dome of St. Pauls is 225 feet high with an inside diameter of 112 feet. The inside wall is tiled and a balcony looks down on the entire inside of the building.  It is this perfectly circular tiled wall that produces the effect for it to be named the Whispering Gallery.  A person can communicate quite distinctly with another diametrically opposite 112 feet away in a whisper or low voice up against the wall.  The effect is quite dramatic, particularly when the balcony itself is crowded and noisy.

Another example of this phenomenon on a much less grandiose scale is the entrance to the crowded Oyster Bar one floor down from the magnificent atrium of Grand Central Station in New York. This square area with its tiled and domed ceiling allows two people to converse with each other by facing the opposite corners while the normal bustle and noise goes on behind their backs in the lower corridor. There are other examples in foreign churches and other buildings.

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