ball of St. Paul's


Senior Member
Hi folks, this is cited from Redburn by Hermann Melville (1849)

Context: Redburn talks about his father who visited Europe many times.
Q: My trouble is the phrase “ball of St. Paul's” Did his father go up to a structure of that cathedral? Is that ball shaped? Where did he go exactly? To what part of that cathedral?

…he used to tell my brother and me of the monstrous waves at sea, mountain high; of the masts bending like twigs; and all about Havre, and Liverpool, and about going up into the ball of St. Paul's in London.
  • entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    St Paul's of course has a dome. I've never seen 'ball' used for a dome or any other part of a church. I don't think even St Paul's would have a bell large enough to go into.


    Senior Member
    My initial assumption was that it was a typo for "hall".

    However it appears St. Paul's Cathedral does have a ball--a ball and cross at the top. I don't know if anyone can really go up into it however.

    Please see here.

    Edit: Cross-posted with the posts above. It appears you can go into the dome.

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    Surely it refers to the dome of St Paul's Cathedral. Since from the outside this looks very much like a half a ball, I can imagine someone referring to it like this, although I don't think I have ever encountered this use before. You can certainly go up into the dome of St. Paul's, and there is a gallery running all the way round the inside (the Whispering Gallery).


    English - England
    On top of St Paul's cathedral in London, there is a ball and a cross
    As you will see, there is no access to the interior of the ball.

    However, this is all part of one theme of the story: Wellingborough's father's faulty memory. Wellingborourgh follows the guidebook (his father) and his father's stories, and he finds that everything is not always as he has been told. He is discovering the world for himself and it is implied that some second-hand experiences are a little unreliable even though they are recounted in good faith.


    Senior Member
    USA - English
    The design of the dome of St. Paul's was inspired by the dome of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Surprisingly enough, in the early 19th Century it actually is possible for visitors to enter the ball on top of the dome of St. Peter's, as this story explains:
    The Unknown Story of St. Peter’s Golden Sphere

    Redburn's father may have heard of that practice, and invented his own claim of doing the same thing at St. Paul's. In any case, it really does mean the ball on top of the dome.
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