A WOW of a Whisper

So there I was, sitting on a bench, minding my own business, when I heard a voice whispering to me from behind my head. Normally, this would have given me a start, since the only thing behind me was a solid wall, but I had been forewarned. The voice was Simon’s, and it was coming to me from approximately 100 feet away and directly across the whispering Gallery from where Otto and I were sitting. This WOW is one of the quirkiest aspects of Christopher Wren’s famous structure, St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.

2014 StPaul Cross Section

Cross Section of the Dome at St. Paul’s Cathedral (Drawing from the Official website of St. Paul’s Cathedral – http://www.stpauls.co.uk/Cathedral-History/Explore-the-Cathedral/Climb-the-Dome)

The Whispering Gallery is the lowest of three balconies that run the circumference of the Cathedral’s dome. From this vantage point, you can enjoy an outstanding view of the magnificent  floor of this historic church.

Climbing the 259 steps to the Whispering Gallery wasn’t as daunting a trek as you might think. The steps are low and slightly wider than your typical riser, so Simon, Otto and I arrived at the top without breaking a sweat. Then Simon went halfway around the gallery until he was facing me. At that point, he literally talked to the wall. He spoke in a stage whisper. I heard, “Raise your right hand, if you can hear me,” across the diameter of the dome, as if he had been standing directly behind me. I raised my right hand to let him know that, for once, I was listening to him.

Although hearing Simon’s whisper wasn’t unexpected, I have to admit that a disembodied voice was a little spooky. But there’s nothing supernatural about the phenomenon. The sound of a whisper is carried by  – surprise, surprise – “Whispering-Gallery”  waves, that travel around the circumference of the gallery, clinging to the walls.

A Section of the Whispering Gallery (Photo credit to unknown Wikipedia contributor

A Section of the Whispering Gallery (Photo credit to unknown Wikipedia contributor)

Having seen for ourselves that the Whispering Gallery did indeed live up to its name, Simon headed up the rest of the stairs – 528  of them in all – to the Stone Gallery, and the Golden Gallery, and then via the spiral staircase that led to the best view of London anywhere. Otto and I sat that one out, as the stairs were very narrow and steep.

While Otto and I chilled, we both enjoyed the atmosphere. All around me, people were doing what Simon and I had done, and their reactions ranged from several degrees above indifference to giggles of delight. As for Otto, he enjoyed being a conversation starter for dog-loving passers-by. People seem more friendly in unusual environments.

While I waited for Simon to return with I hoped would be some stunning photos, it seemed a good time to check my email. I couldn’t help marveling at how a structure born of the brilliance of Christopher Wren in the 17th Century could out-WOW even a smart phone.

There is so much to tell about St. Paul’s Cathedral, but it will take one of my longer blog posts to even begin. Meanwhile, I challenge you to experience the Whispering Gallery and not say WOW!

If you are interested in learning more about the Whispering Gallery at St. Paul’s Cathedral, the official website of the cathedral and Wikipedia are two good starting points to whet your appetite.

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