Saturday, 28 March 2015

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey is an altar to English history and politics as much as it is to God.
The towers of Westminster Abbey left of M's head, behind the houses of Parliament.  A cold but sunny, winter London day.
From the time of William the Conqueror's coronation there on Christmas day 1066, England's monarchs have followed suit. He was heir to Edward the Confessor who began the building of the Abbey and who was buried here. Many Kings and Queens of the realm, along with those rich enough to buy space when it was for sale and some of England's genius' are buried here too.
Left:  Temporary tiers and balconies of seating were built in for Queen Elizabeth II coronation.
Right: Leaving Westminster Abbey as Queen.     Photos from Public domain.
This photo, of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's wedding from the Telegraph , shows the enormity of the vaulted ceilings.

William Wilberforce - remembered for his ferocious fight
against the legality of  human slavery.
So many famous people have been buried here. The only grave visitors are not allowed to stand on or walk over is that of the unknown soldier; even Lady Diana's funeral procession went around it. It is always surrounded by the red poppy border.

M was a bit stressed as people stepped on Charles Dickens and Sir Issac Newton though.

Apparently one of the biggest funerals ever in the Abbey was that of Charles Dickens - the poor and under-trodden from all around the country came in their rags to leave flowers at the grave of the voice that shared their plight and developed a social consciousness in an age where poverty was still seen as a reward for lack of moral development.

I didn't realise that the first governor of NSW had been buried here. I was in the middle of teaching the Ted Hughes sophisticated fairy tale "The Ironman" so I shared this photo with my Yr 6 class to show where the Poet Laureate had been remembered. I wonder what Lewis Carroll (real name Charles Dodgson) found on the other side of this rabbit hole. The circular design of his memorial is an allusion to his most famous work. An inscription reads "Is all our life then but a dream?" This reminds me of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody for some reason: the place of Freddy Mercury's (birth name Farroch Bulsara) remains are still a mystery, he certainly isn't cossied up with Purcell at the foot of the organ stairs or Handle, perhaps he should be! No mum, I'm not implying that 'Play the Game' or 'Someone to Love' are comparable to 'The Messiah'?!
Left: Elizabeth I was buried above Mary, her sister who would have turned and tweaked Elizabeth for eternity if she'd know how Elizabeth had formed England into a wealthy Protestant country.  Right: Mary of Scots was reburied on the opposite side of the knave in a much flasher tomb by Elizabeth I's heir James I. That may have made Elizabeth squirm! Mary's effigy looks nothing like her hideous portrait in the National Portrait gallery.
Poets corner. THis began because Chaucer was buried here, not remembered for his Cantebury tales but because he was the Royal minister of works at the time of his death.  Other famous men of letters were soon clustered around him. Shakespeare has a memorial here, his body is at his local church in Stratford-upon -Avon. Famous actors  requested that their effigy face him. Jane Austin has a memorial plaque tucked in below the inventor of the dictionary - Dr Johnson.
King Richard's(last English King killed in battle) remains were discovered under a car park in Leicester in 2012.  Last week he was duly buried in Leicester Cathedral.  Some argued that he should have been reburied in the Abbey.  Considering the two sets of adolescent bones found walled up in London Tower are buried in an Urn designed by Christopher Wren there - who are considered to be the nephews Richard III is purported to have murdered, Leicester was probably a less confronting site.
The Abbey has the title 'Royal Peculiar' because the church is answerable immediately to the Queen (or King) rather than to a Bishop. The person in charge of the church is called a Dean.
Edwards burial scene in the Bayeux Tapestry - the Abbey to the left has cloisters and one tower but was completely built over by Henry III as he tried to build a 'more glorious memorial to his hero - King Edward. 
The front of the Abbey where princesses enter to be wed
or crowned and visitors leave. The visitor entry is around
the left side. Check opening times before visiting!
The Abbey has changed shape many times with rebuilds and renovations. Edward would not recognise it at all. It ceased being an Abbey during the dissolution but Henry VIII's daughter - Mary, returned the monks along with the old religion. Elizabeth I cleared them out again and it has remained a singular blip in the Church of England catergorisation methods ever since. As big as a Cathedral but not named as one. St Pauls holds this title in London.

The building is quite overwhelming, with chapels and gated rooms budding off the main spaces, each with plaques or statues in memorial of human names or remains.  The enormous circular chapter house where the monks would carry out their job of copying tomes or recording business is beautiful but empty. It is said a door in the entry to this space is the oldest in Britain. There is a museum in one of the rooms with the coronation chair on display which proudly shows all the punishment of being the oldest English artifact in continual use. One young altar boy carved his initials and the date which he slept over in it. It has been chopped and nailed, stained and restored but will be used again when the next king is crowned.
The Ladies Chapel built along French Gothic lines by Henry III.

The Quire - where the choir sit.
Left: Coronation chair     Right: Oldest door in Britain.

Visitors mostly exit through the shop, right of the church exit door.
It was good to get back outside again - away from the weight of so much dead and unconnected history. Nevertheless; Westminster Abbey is an absolute must on any travel itinerary of London.
Great souvenir shot across Westminster square from the Abbey.

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