St Paul’s is a major London landmark, sitting within the City of London. I am lucky enough to work near St Paul’s, which means that I end walking around the area often, whether to eat my lunch on the grass next to the cathedral, meet a friend for drinks after work or take some photos on a particularly nice day. However, it’s often the details that don’t make it into the most popular photos of landmarks, leaving special corners of well-known places up for grabs for keen-eyed locals and frequent visitors.
So, while I do like the main cathedral, I like the statues of caged women even more.
In front of the cathedral is a statue of Queen Anne on a pedestal, as she was the ruling monarch when St Paul’s was first finished in 1710. She’s surrounded by four figures, which represent England, France, Ireland and America.
The England statue grabbed my eye first, as she is sitting there holding a stunning gold trident. I guess one of the benefits of representing the country the installation resides in is that you get the most spectacular hardware and command the biggest budget. I have always liked marble statues, but I do prefer soft, shiny marble to the weathered grey blocks that make up these figures. Given the muted backdrop, colour-wise, it seems right that a striking gold weapon would do the trick for grabbing a nearby gaze.
The England figure is holding one side of a carved representation of the British Royal Coat of Arms, with the other side held up by the France statue, showing clearly who the UK would have picked first to be on their team in 1710.
The France statue is holding a crown, and has a fleur-de-lys inscribed on her helmet. She has a chin so pointy that it doesn’t even matter that she has no gold spear to speak of, and an expression that shows some discontent that her gaudiest decoration is an etching so small that I didn’t even see it until the Internet told me it was there to see at all.
Round the back, toward the cathedral itself, the Ireland statue holds a harp and looks toward the basilica. She also has one breast jauntily hanging out of her robes, which, when combined with the music, suggests that if you want to have a good time, head to Ireland.
And the final figure represents America, as a Native American, complete with golden bow, quiver of arrows and feathered skirt and headdress. Both of America’s breasts are out too but in a more threatening kind of way when combined with a bow and arrow. Clearly America was a powerhouse even in the 1700s, as it was deemed the only other country deserving of some kind of golden weapon to adorn their statue, rather than a stone crown or harp. America is also resting her foot on a man’s dismembered head, making clear that of the four countries, America is the one to run from first, which might not have been as accurate in 1710 but certainly seems prescient now. Regardless, the whole bare-breasts-golden-bow-man’s-corpse look is a definitely a power move.
While the statues are clearly guarded by iron railings for protection, there was something more striking to me about these powerful female figures, with golden weapons in hand, trapped behind bars. To me, it looks like they are caged. No matter how many beheaded men or sparkly weapons they command, they remain sitting behind the railings, there to be looked at, photographed and, given their overbearing, dome-y neighbour, underappreciated.
I love this set of statues. They are seldom included in popular coverage of St Paul’s, so much so that I had no idea these figures existed until I came to the cathedral to see for myself.
This is the joy of living somewhere; finding the details, the secret spots, the golden surprises of which most people are unaware. I remain surprised by how many people I see taking photos of the dome compared to how few are focused on the statues. St Paul’s grandeur dwarfs the quiet beauty of these figures, which is a shame.
This little marble creation is one of my favourite little details in an otherwise highly modern and metallic part of the city. I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to retread my footsteps week after week, to suspend myself on the railings to find a new angle, wait for passersby to clear the view before snapping a picture and come up with political subtext for a three hundred year old statue. There’s so much to see, everywhere, if you take the time to take a look.