The Secrets of St. Paul’s Cathedral Whispering Gallery

By Harshitha Jagathiesh

Climbing 257 steps up St. Paul’s Cathedral’s grand dome takes you to the famous Whispering Gallery, perched 30 meters above the nave crossing. 

Not initially intended for its acoustic features, this circular walkway has unexpectedly become a popular attraction for its unique sound qualities.

Since the cathedral’s opening in 1708, the gallery has been a trendy spot for visitors.

They come to enjoy both the stunning views and the extraordinary sound phenomenon it provides. 

Here, a whisper along the curved wall can travel over 33 meters, an unusual feat for whispers. 

The gallery has witnessed countless secrets and confessions over the years. Despite its appeal, the science behind this acoustic wonder remains a mystery.

What to Expect at the St Paul’s Cathedral Whispering Gallery

Visiting the Whispering Gallery at St. Paul’s Cathedral is a unique experience.

You need to climb 259 narrow steps to access the Whispering Gallery. 

This climb can be challenging, especially for those with mobility issues or a fear of heights.

Once at the gallery, you can experience the famous acoustic effect. 

A whisper against the wall on one side can be surprisingly clear on the other side due to the circular shape of the dome carrying the sound waves around the space.

The gallery offers a stunning view of the interior of St. Paul’s Cathedral from a height of about 30 meters above the cathedral floor. 

You can appreciate the intricate details of the cathedral’s design, including its mosaics, artwork, and inner dome.

From here, you can have a closer look at the cathedral dome and get the best views of London from the viewing points. 

If you want to explore further, you can climb to the Stone Gallery and the Golden Gallery above the Whispering Gallery.

These galleries require additional climbing and offer different views and experiences.

St. Paul’s Cathedral Whispering Gallery Hours

The Whispering Gallery within St. Paul’s Cathedral extends a warm invitation to visitors throughout the week. 

The operating hours are from Monday to Saturday from 8.30 am to 4.30 pm.

On Wednesdays, the opening hours are from 10 am and close at 4.30 pm. 

The last entry is at 4 pm, allowing guests a generous half-hour to explore before the day concludes. 

The cathedral remains closed to tourists on Sundays, reserving this day exclusively for worship.

The Paintings of Whispering Gallery

The Whispering Gallery has a series of paintings depicting the life of Paul. 

Moving clockwise, the narrative unfolds with Paul depicted in Cyprus. 

There, he blinds a disbelieving sorcerer who frantically searches for his book while his guide dog barks.

Then, in Turkey, where pagans mistake Paul for a deity and offer a sacrificial bull to him.

Then, in Philippi, where you can see that he is imprisoned during an earthquake that miraculously opens the doors and leads to the conversion of the jailer, who was on the brink of suicide.

Following this, Paul is portrayed in Athens, where he enlightens Gentile Stoics about the universality of humanity and the inclusive nature of God.

Then, in Ephesus, where idolatrous texts are burned.

Next, in Caesarea, where, despite impressing King Herod with his teachings on Christianity, Paul remains imprisoned due to Herod’s decision to maintain his Jewish faith. 

In the final scene, Paul survives a shipwreck on Malta. He miraculously escapes a viper’s bite, leading to the conversion of the admiring Maltese. 

Interspersed between these depictions are the supporting ribs of the 40,000-ton dome.

It’s concealed by statues in niches representing the eight fathers of Christianity.

Four from the Eastern Church (Greek and Russian Orthodox), including Athanasius, Chrysostom, Basil, and Gregory The Theologian.

The other four from the Western Church include Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine of Hippo, and Gregory The Great. 

These figures, influential in the early years of Christianity, hold significant historical and theological importance. 

Augustine of Hippo authored the Te Deum, the oldest non-Biblical Christian text.

At the same time, the western Gregory is credited with inventing Gregorian chant, and the eastern Gregory is known for his definition of the trinity.

Christopher Wren: The Knowledge Exhibition

The Whispering Gallery features an exhibition dedicated to its creator – Christopher Wren. 

The Quest for Knowledge exhibition celebrates Sir Christopher Wren’s achievements and personality.

It’s a complimentary showcase in the crypt marking 300 years since the architect’s passing. 

Visitors are greeted by a plaster bust of Wren from 1683, portraying him in his fifties with a youthful, intelligent demeanor—wide-eyed, mischievous grin and flowing locks. 

Edward Pierce, a member of Wren’s team, contributed to numerous church interiors.

This includes St Lawrence Jewry, St Clement Danes, St Andrew Holborn, and the iconic St Paul’s Cathedral.

Saint Paul’s Cathedral exhibits feature poignant personal items such as Christopher Wren’s penknife and various tools. 

They shed light on his lesser-known medical research, including experiments injecting drugs into animal veins and detailed anatomical drawings of a flea and the human brain. 

There are archive pictures showcasing London before and after the fire, and one depicts The Monument at the head of London Bridge in its pre-1830 position. 

There is a whimsical display by local school children showcasing their contemporary designs for St Paul’s.

It’s accompanied by interactive exhibits like the stonemason’s cap and the opportunity to experience the pungent scent of the burnt-out city. 

The atmosphere encourages full participation, with a reminder to refrain from whispering by raising the alarm.

FAQs About St. Paul’s Cathedral Whispering Gallery

1. What makes the Whispering Gallery special?

The Whispering Gallery’s unique acoustic design enables individuals to communicate in hushed tones across the room and still be perfectly heard. 

A favorite feature since 1938, the acoustic Whispering Gallery maintains impressive sound quality. 

Visitors stand back-to-back with a friend at each end of the elongated room.

2. Why is it called the Whispering Gallery?

The name originates from the phenomenon of sound waves, termed whispering-gallery waves, that propagate along the circumference of the gallery, clinging to its walls.

3. Was there an incident involving someone falling from the Whispering Gallery?

Yes, the famous Whispering Gallery inside St. Paul’s Cathedral’s dome closed temporarily following a tragic accident in 2019. 

The gallery shuttered in April 2019 after a teenage boy lost his life in a fall from its height.

4. Where can the Whispering Gallery be found in London?

To locate the Whispering Gallery in London, ascend 257 steps within the grand dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral. 

Positioned 30 meters above the crossing of the nave, it stands as one of the city’s most notable tourist attractions.

5. How many steps lead to the Whispering Gallery?

Before reaching the Whispering Gallery at St.Paul’s Cathedral, visitors must climb 259 steps.

Image: Commons.Wikipedia.org

Harshita
About the author

Harshitha’s heart lies where greeny mountains meet stretches of beach. She believes getting lost is the best way to explore