Probably my favorite part about the trip (sorry Miranda, I know you love St. Paul’s) …
Monday morning, first thing on the menu, Westminster Abbey.
My understanding is the Abbey is USUALLY pretty crowded. There’s no real getting around that…. so we had to wait in line for a bit. Maybe 10 min. Not long. … before even getting inside.
(1st photo not by me. borrowed from the internet)
*note: the photos that are NOT by me are made private, so clicking on them will not give you bigger options.
and an interior view of that round stained-glass window:
(check it out – more scaffolding. These Brits are serious about the Olympics)
You enter the Abbey through the North entrance …
(flying buttresses … I finally learned what that means. They’re basically holding up the walls)
me in front of the north entrance …
So, as per usual, we were not allowed cameras/photos inside the Abbey … I probably could have gotten off 1 or 2 w/o getting caught, but I do have a pretty big camera to ‘hide’ ….
So I found pics online.
There’s an awful lot on the wikipedia page.
and I scanned the postcards that I bought.
Here’s a rough map of the interior. You basically walk in and follow the flow of traffic clockwise around.
Westminster Abbey offers a complimentary audio guide that corresponds to the route around. This is a necessity, because there aren’t really plaques or any other way to get the info about what you’re looking at. Trust me we tried.
*unexpected highlight* Miranda and I started walking through the Abbey, gave up, and went back to get the audio guide. Both started at the same time and pretty much simultaneously looked at each other with joy.
Narrated by Jeremy Irons.
mmmm … lovely.
The choir – or Quire (walk in a little ahead to the right)
at this point on the audio tour, you could listen to an organ-concert …. gorgeous.
The Tomb of Edward the Confessor (St. Edward):
He was the final king of England before the Norman invasion. He died around the same time that the Abbey was completed … and was canonized as a saint in 1161 – I think he is now considered the patron saint of kings.
From the Rick Steves guidebook:
“The holiest part of the church is the raised area behind the altar (no tourist access). Step back and peek over the dark coffin of Edward I to see the tippy-top of the green and gold wedding-cake tomb of King Edward the Confessor – the man who built Westminster Abbey.
“God had told pious Edward to visit St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. But with the Normans thinking conquest, it was too dangerous for him to leave England. Instead, he built this grand church and dedicated it to St. Peter. It was finished just in time to bury Edward and to crown his foreign successor, William the Conqueror in 1066…. This elevated, central tomb — which lost some of its luster when Henry VIII melted down the gold coffin-case — is surrounded by the tombs of eight kings and queens.”
(check out the map above to get an idea of this)
Also borrowed from the internet: tomb of Henry III – he’s the one that expanded the Abbey as a shrine to Edward the Confessor. Also located near Edward. Henry III’s is pretty much the tomb between then major walk way and the tomb of Edward
Chapel of Henry VII (if you look in the map above, you can kind of see where it is. We’ve passed a couple other tombs by then)
This chapel is also known as the Lady Chapel, and it was simply breath-taking. I would have loved to just hang out there by myself for a while.
In the photo below, the black structure on the right surrounds the tomb of Henry VII and his queen, Elizabeth of York
You can also see a glimpse of the amazing ceiling…. but a better photo:
From Rick Steves’ guidebook:
“The light from the stained-glass windows, the colorful banners overhead, and the elaborate tracery in stone, wood and glass give this room the festive air of a medieval tournament. The prestigious Knights of Bath meet here, under the magnificent ceiling studded with gold pendants. The ceiling — of carved stone, not plaster (1519) — is the finest English Perpendicular Gothic and fan vaulting you’ll see. The ceiling was sculpted on the floor in pieces, then jigsaw-puzzled into place.”
As I was walking down the steps from this chapel (Miranda was a bit ahead of me somewhere else), a voice came on over the intercom.
I guess once every hour the priests ask for a minute of prayer and silence from those visiting the Abbey.
To remind us that we are in a sacred place that deserves respect.
Not everyone recognized that, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they don’t speak English.
As I was standing on the stairs, looking slightly down toward the shrine of Edward the Confessor, the priest read the following prayer:
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey….
I asked for health, that I might do greater things,
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things….
I asked for riches, that I might be happy,
I was given poverty, that I might be wise….
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men,
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God….
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life,
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things….
I got nothing that I asked for -
but everything that I had hoped for,
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am among all men most richly blessed.
It is attributed to an unknown Confederate soldier. … and I have to tell you, for an American coming all the way to England, to hear that beautiful poetry that was inspired by one of my country’s most trying moments, and read by an (I assume) Anglican priest. … was very moving.
A very special moment on my trip….
It was then announced that there would be a time for prayer and worship IN the shrine to St. Edward (the Confessor). This part of the Abbey is closed off to tourists, and only available to those who truly want to worship.
I think I might have joined them if I was on my own, but with other people, having other stuff planned for the day, it just wasn’t feasible for this trip.
down the steps to the left … is the very famous Poet’s corner, where many many artists, writers, composers, etc are buried or memorialized. (follow the link for a list)
So interesting … so many writers that I have enjoyed or even loved …
After Poet’s corner, you walk out through the cloisters … so gorgeous. I would love to have done a photoshoot here … weird?
The ground of the cloisters is paved with more gravestones (see the photo below). Some of them are so old (probably close to 1000 yrs) that the writing has been worn completely away. I think these were monks, etc from way back.
(from the internet) reminds me of Hogwarts, no?
From the Rick Steves guidebook:
“The buildings that adjoin the church housed the monks. (The church is known as the ‘abbey’ because it was the headquarters of the Benedictine Order — until Henry VIII kicked them out in 1540). Cloistered courtyards gave them a place to meditate on God’s creations.”
finally, after re-entering the church you come into the Nave
Another interior shot … closer up of the (I think) Newton and Darwin monument/commemoration/whatever they are
You can see on the floor a grave marked by a dark stone, surrounded by flowers. This is the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior – one of my favorite parts of the Abbey.
Just like we have in Arlington Natl cemetery, this tomb honors all the Britons who have fought and died in the world wars.
From the Rick Steves guidebook:
“On the floor near the west entrance of the Abbey is the flower-lined Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, on ordinary WWI soldier buried in soil from France with lettering made from melted-down weapons from the war.”
From wikipedia: “The battlefield that the Warrior came from is not publicly known, and has been kept secret so that the Unknown Warrior might serve as a symbol for all of the unknown dead wherever they fell.”
The most amazing part is – this is the ONLY gravestone in the entire Abbey upon which no one is permitted to walk. No one. Not even the queen.
There’s an image (I can’t find it at the moment) of the Queen Mother’s funeral, in which the pall bearers (including, I believe, Prince Charles) are carrying the casket AROUND this tomb. A direct path from the door to the altar would be over the tombstone, but NO ONE is permitted to walk on it.
So beautiful … made me think of when I was able to lay a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in D.C. … also made me love history. …
So, after about an hour and a half, we were out of there! One stop at the gift shop, and then on we go.
I could have spent the whole day, but that will have to wait for next time.
After we left, we walked up Whitehall, where there is a ton of monuments in the middle of the road .. .
Like this one:
We didn’t really see any touristy stands like this when we were in London on Saturday … apparently Parliament/Whitehall/Trafalgar square is the tourist hub of London.
reminds me of Joey and his hat on Friends, right?
yes – I took a pic in a red British phone booth – the entrance to the Ministry of Magic?
smelled ridiculously of urine. blech.
The original intent was to visit a Churchill WW2 museum, but it ended up being kind of a lot of $$ and there were plenty of other things we wanted to do that day … so that also will have to wait for my next visit …