The London Society recently organised an evening tour of this fascinating building. Rebecca Snow of Stiff+Trevillion reports.
Emerging from London Bridge tube station one is spat out into loud, brash 21st Century London. The Shard towers over commuters, traffic converges from every angle and trains trundle relentlessly overhead. However, nestled firmly in its place by the Thames sits Southwark Cathedral, oozing a quiet confidence that says, I have been here. I will continue to be here. This ancient building is not remotely out of place; in fact it is the contemporary architecture that looks awkward around it.
Gathering in Lancelot’s Link, part of Richard Griffiths Northern Cloister extension that opened in 2001 sitting very comfortably next to the Cathedral, it prepares visitors beautifully for stepping out into the main body of the cathedral. And it is a wonderful moment to look up into the vast cavernous ceiling that contrasts so well with the enclosed feeling of the Cloister.
Although billed as candlelit, electric lighting was also on offer to illustrate areas of this historic building candlelit would simply not show – and presumably to stop us all falling flat on our faces on the uneven floor. The tour began in perhaps the most spiritual space in the cathedral – certainly the oldest part of the building – the Retro Choir. Four small chapels dedicated to Mary were created, not to venerate the Mother of God but to allow the many priests serving in the 13th Century to fulfil their religious obligation of celebrating Mass each day. Interestingly for a Cathedral of this size there are no side chapels, these four small chapels behind the main altar were created for practical rather than spiritual reasons.