When we ventured out of our hotel the next morning we found we were within walking distance to Westminster Cathedral and Westminster Abby: the Cathedral is Roman Catholic and the Abby is Church of England.
We visited the Cathedral first and noticed there were a few important differences from the C of E cathedrals we have been visiting. There was no charge at the door (and we did not have to pay to go to Durham Cathedral either) (a notable exception ) and prayer services and masses are said all day long. We came in at the tail end of the noon mass and just sat down. The church is made of red brick and the ceiling is plain, smoke blackened brick with no ornamentation at all and we were told that it is on purpose to make the ceiling look as if it is receding into the heavens. On the other hand, the church has side chapels down the sides of the nave and these are gorgeous. Around 150 different types of marble were used in the interior covering the walls, the floor and all of the chapels. The walls are magnificent but it is the mosaics that take one’s breath away. At first we thought we were looking at paintings but looking closer the artistry of what we were seeing became apparent. The tesserae were very small and many of them were made of golden glass, I don’t know how they did that, and the ceilings were like looking into a bit of Heaven. If I can pull some pictures off the internet I’ll put them in but there was absolutely no photography allowed in the church. I did find some photos. They take their church mission seriously. This is a very new Cathedral since it was started in 1897. It is very close to the Abby so I am guessing it was a late Victorian thumb on the nose to the Church of England. You can see the marble in these pictures and the purposely gloomy interior.
Westminster Abby was close by so we ambled over there…in the hottest day so far…and debated whether or not to pay the piper to the tune of 17 pounds each to go in. But, we ‘shall not pass this way again’ so we went in and, and….
What can I say? Anyone can look at pictures of the Abby on line…again no photographs…but to actually be there? Not so easy. Sure the monarchs are crowned there, royal weddings take place there…but that is not what makes it totally freaked out amazing. Charles Darwin is buried there! I walked on his grave marker…a lot. Geoffrey Chaucer is buried there, and Lewis Carroll, and C.S. Lewis, and Turner and Dickens. Livingstone was carried all the way from Africa and they dug a hole in the Abby floor and stuck him in there, too. And Jane Austen, and the Brontë sisters, and Mary Anne Evens and so many more. And plaques honoring people who were buried elsewhere but contributed to the thoughts…the great thoughts of generations to come and changed the way we see the world and and its people. For me, Westminster Abby is a shrine to all these great minds, people who were swept up in time because of native ability, the right moment, and pure luck . There is also a memorial to an unknown soldier from WWI. A man was brought back, unidentified, and buried there near Livingstone. (The Poets Corner to the left) Flowers are placed around the marker and it is the only marker that no one is allowed to walk across.
It is true that kings and queens are buried there, Elizabeth I and her sister, Mary, some Edwards, I forget the numbers, but…not Henry VIII. Remember that until his reign Westminster Abby was Roman Catholic. Sort of like our church in Groton which was trinitarian until the Dedham Decision and then they had to hie off down the street leaving the property and the place on the common to those upstart, heretical Unitarians. The Abby is a crypt even if they do hold services there. We could have gone to Evensong there but after York Minster there didn’t seem to be much point.
After we left Westminster Abby we walked until we found an Italian restaurant No more steak and ale pie unless I make it myself. We had a beef and venison ragout with pasta…maybe the Italian version of steak and ale? We split an enormous bottle of Italian beer. Delicious.
And the next day….