Friday, May 9, 2008

Wednesday in London: We continue with Westminster

We turn away from St. Margaret's and toward Westminster Abbey. In some way, it is like St. Paul's Cathedral for me. I have no preconceived ideas at all of what I will find. I guess that is true for all of the churches that we have seen on this trip and on the last trip. That is what makes everything so amazing -- that there is this abundance of glorious history and beauty, and we are able to just stumble over it, like stones in the path.

Amazing, when you think about it.

We pause for a few moments, looking at the details of the entry way. Take a look at the rose-shaped window at the top of the picture -- you will be seeing it later.

A fine waterspout, I think.

The details above the door.

A shrine was first founded in 616 on the present site, then known as Thorn Ey (Thorn Island): its tradition of miraculous consecration after a fisherman on the River Thames saw a vision of Saint Peter justifying the presents of salmon from the Thames fishermen that the Abbey received. In the 960s or early 970s Saint Dunstan, assisted by King Edgar, planted a community of Benedictine monks here. The stone Abbey was built around 1045–1050 by King Edward the Confessor, who had selected the site for his burial: it was consecrated on December 28, 1065, only a week before the Confessor's death and subsequent funeral. It was the site of the last coronation prior to the Norman Invasion, that of his successor King Harold.

Again, we are not able to take pictures of the cathedral. I rent the audio tour. Wry does not want a headset, but I share with him anyway. I worry that I will be grabbed and chastised. I am not really just being cheap, just trying to share.

Armed with insider knowledge, we begin to wander around. There are many memorials and almost anyone you can imagine who is famous is buried here. I don't think I can really describe what it was like to tour the Abbey. Wry has a great recollection of just how crammed with the amazing that this place is -- when we walked in and were getting our headphones for the audio tour, there was a marble knight in effigy that had been put to use by having brochures stacked on him. That tells you something about just how much there is to see.

And almost every inch is covered by something beautiful, like the pavement in front of the High Altar.

Or historic, like the resting place of Edward the Confessor.

This shrine, which Henry III caused to be erected in honour of his predecessor, stands in the middle of the chapel. We were able to walk past this on our right, with a rabbit's warren of memorials and effigies to the left. You had to look at the floor and pay attention, because the floor is worn and uneven. It is one of those moments when I was enjoying the screen and finally looked up to see something extraordinary.

Or just amazing, like the effigy of Sir Isaac Newton.

The layout of the church from the 1800's. We have entered through the North Transept, taken a left and toured the memorials and effigies. One of my favorites is a small memorial of a woman with this inscription:

Courteous to all yet strictly sincere
humble without meanness
beneficent without ostentation
devout without superstition.

As I ponder these words, I think that these are worthy aspirations, and a lovely testament to a life lived for Christ.

And sometimes, you look up.

It is just so big. And there is just so much to see. And unlike most of the churches that we have seen, it seems more like a state institution than a place of worship. The history is palpable. It is grand. And sumptuous. And cold, somehow. It is easy to see the glory of man and history, but Christ is a little harder to see. However, it is certainly not to be missed.

My very favorite thing is that once an hour, everyone is stopped and asked to observe a moment of silence to reflect or pray, to remind us that we are in a church. I also liked that if you wanted to know something more about a term, such as baptism or the Trinity, that you heard on the audio tour, there was a snippet of information to explain it. I pray that God will reveal Himself to some seeking heart through such encounters.

So this is looking toward the front of the church. I think this is the view from the middle of the church looking back at the North Transept, where we came in.

This contains a large and superb rose-shaped window, consisting of sixteen pointed leaves, which are divided into as many smaller ones, nearer the center. They all proceed from a circle, in which are eight round leaves, in the center of which, on a ground of deep yellow, is-an open book, inscribed with the Greek words DOROS ETAYPOT. The divisions of the central circle are in straw colour; and in that beyond is a surrounding band of cherubim; while the large leaves are filled with the figures of the apostles and evangelists.

This is looking toward the Choir, past it toward the Nave.

We wander from place to place, seeing history piled upon history, monument upon monument. Chaucer, Browning, Dickens, Johnson, Kipling, Spenser and Olivier. The monarchs of England. The Henrys and the Annes. Amazing.

We see the resting place of Mary, Queen of Scots

and Elizabeth I.

At the base of the monument to Elizabeth and her sister, Mary is the inscription:
"Partners both in throne and grave, here rest we two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary, in the hope of the Resurrection"

It is oddly sad and poignant. At the end, they were just two women, despite the fact that they embodied history.

This is Henry VII's Lady Chapel. It is one of the most extraordinary things that I have ever seen. It is a Perpendicular style chapel dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1503.

Henry was buried in the Chapel on his death in 1509 in a tomb designed by the Italian artist and sculptor Torrigiani, although the chapel was originally intended for Henry VI. It is one of the first examples of the Renaissance in Britain, and the chapel itself is one of the best examples of Perpendicular Period architecture.

What does it mean that you can just walk into something like this? I had the same feeling at St. Giles in Edinburgh. It is stunning -- staggering -- opulent and gorgeous beyond words. It is like being slammed by beauty. You can feel it like a blow to your middle, and you can't catch your breath for a bit.

I was a little ahead of Wry and, after a bit of trying to absorb what I am seeing, I go back to get him. He is not willing to be hurried, so I sit on the steps outside of the Lady Chapel, looking at the chair of King Edward, trying to absorb what I have just seen.

King Edward's Chair (or St Edward's Chair), the throne on which British sovereigns are seated at the moment of coronation, is housed within the Abbey; from 1296 to 1996 the chair also housed the Stone of Scone upon which the kings of Scotland are crowned, but pending another coronation the Stone is now kept in Scotland. (But we knew that, didn't we.)

I get up a couple of times and go back in and try to absorb what I am seeing. This is a view of the ceiling. It does not even begin to do it justice. There is a mirrored cart that you can wheel around and use to look at the ceiling. I guess that it is so that tourists do not topple over like bowling pins from kinked cerebral arteries after looking upward for long periods of time.

Wry finally comes in, and I am walking beside him, pacing like an eager border collie. I want to see his reaction, and it is satisfying to see him checked by the same stunning view. I am almost chortling, because I can see the awe and delight on his face.

I stop and chat with a docent who has a very heavy London accent. He tells me about the RAF window. It is an interesting note to the Lady Chapel.

And back out. I take a quick walk through the Cloister and find that I am able to take pictures here. I pull out my camera and begin snapping away.

Coming out into the open air of the Cloister, the walkway to the right.

The open area is to my left, and the wall of monuments is on my right. Here are a few.

I get to the end of the walkway and consider going back in, but I have lost Wry. So I backtrack a little and get a few more pictures.

There are different cloisters. I am not sure which one I am seeing.

The Cloister were, in pre-Reformation days, one of the busiest parts of the monastic precincts and, with windows filled with glass, rushes strewn on the floor and braziers burning, would have been cosier than they seem today.

They were used by the monks for meditation and exercise, besides providing access to the main monastic buildings.

The floor is wet.

On the wall. Here are the close-ups.

I wish my Latin was not quite so rusty.

This is a view of the wall just before turn left to go back into the transept. I still cannot find Wry.

After looking around for a bit, I find that services are going to be in a very short time. I figure that Wry and I will meet up then, because I know that he will want to attend. I am eager to do so as well. I follow the signs and exit and enter the Nave. Evensong will be spoken this evening, so we are to sit in the Nave.

We sit among a group of people who are participating in the services. There is a man a row in front of me wearing an old military jacket. He is praying fervently. A woman has some angry, paranoid outburst, and rushes out.

It is odd and beautiful and sad, in a way. There are less than a couple of hundred of us, which seems rather small in such a large city. I pray for revival.

When the service is over, we walk around a little more, seeing Newton's effigy and Darwin's memorial on the pavement.

We exit and see the wall with the twentieth century martyrs.

A prettier shot, I think.

We have not been able to take any pictures of the interior. I am outside and see no reason why I cannot shoot through the door to the interior. I am having a hard time getting the shot, and give Wry the camera.

And he gets this very good shot through the locked door.

And one of Newton's memorial. The monument is of white and grey marble. Its base bears a Latin inscription and supports a sarcophagus with large scroll feet and a relief panel. The latter depicts boys using instruments related to Newton's mathematical and optical work (including the telescope and prism) and his activity as Master of the Mint.

Above the sarcophagus is a reclining figure of Newton, in classical costume, his right elbow resting on several books representing his great works. They are labelled 'Divinity', 'Chronology', 'Opticks' [1704] and 'Philo. Prin. Math' [Philosophia Naturalis Principia Mathematica, 1686-7)]. With his left hand he points to a scroll with a mathematical design, held by two standing winged boys. The background is a pyramid on which is a celestial globe with the signs of the Zodiac, of the constellations, and with the path of the comet of 1680. On top of the globe sits a figure of Astronomy leaning upon a book.

The Latin inscription is:

"Here is buried Isaac Newton, Knight, who by a strength of mind almost divine, and mathematical principles peculiarly his own, explored the course and figures of the planets, the paths of comets, the tides of the sea, the dissimilarities in rays of light, and, what no other scholar has previously imagined, the properties of the colours thus produced. Diligent, sagacious and faithful, in his expositions of nature, antiquity and the holy Scriptures, he vindicated by his philosophy the majesty of God mighty and good, and expressed the simplicity of the Gospel in his manners. Mortals rejoice that there has existed such and so great an ornament of the human race! He was born on 25th December, 1642, and died on 20th March 1726/7."

Replete, we leave into the cold, rapidly darkening evening.

Outside of the Abbey.

Amen and amen.

More lions.

The gift shop is right below this. I run in quickly, because they are closing, but do not see anything that I need right now.

This is across the square ... I just liked the way it looked.

Twilight is dropping. It is just about my favorite time of day.

St. Margaret's Church, Big Ben, and the moon rising.

A shot across the Abbey Green. From right to left, Westminster Abbey, St. Margaret's Church and Big Ben. Pretty, no?

St. Margaret's, lit up against the evening.

The North entrance of Westminster.

Big Ben and the House of Parliament.

And the moon rising behind.

This is my favorite shot.

But this is nice, too.

You can see how long we have been standing outside in the cold, trying to get good shots. Apparently, there are things that we are willing to suffer for. Wry probably got the best shots. I am going to say it was because he is tall and is not impeded by things like people's heads. But I think that he is just better at this than I am. He risked life and limb, running across the traffic to get some really nice shots.

We are pretty cold and hungry, so we consult our Cheap Eats book and find a fish and chips joint on the way back to the Jesmond Dene.

We stop at the Fryer's Delight for fish and chips. We walk about a hundred blocks to the restaurant (okay, not that far, but it seemed pretty far) and finally spy the restaurant across the street. We step in and it is warm (aaaahhhh) and smells really good. I am about starving at this point.

It is really small and narrow, but we are able to get a seat. We end up sharing a table with two nice ladies, both of whom are relatively local. One used to come in all of the time and has had her friend meet her here. One had just come back from a trip to the US and we have a nice chat.

Our dinner is well within our budget. I decide to have fish and chips with mushy peas, to have a true culinary experience. Wry decides against the peas. He sort of detests canned peas.

While we eat, we discuss where we are going tomorrow. We sketch out the itinerary, which you can see to Wry's right. The fish was very, very good and worth every penny. Mmmm.

Tomorrow is our last day in London -- it looks to be pretty busy.


rowan said...

WOW! What a fabulicious post. Sooo much detail to absorb and savour. The photos are amazing, as usual, but I am going to have to email my photographer dad to look at these. Those Westminster moon shots really rock.

I am glad to see where the plaque 'page element' came from! I hadn't seen it, but thought I'd missed it, somehow. Here it is! A lovely semtiment, carved thereon. Glad you spotted and snapped it. Now it is out there in the ether for all who click by to enjoy. Yo to irrepressible Californian photo-journalisty sorts, and the internetz.

The fish and chips look yummy! A nice large fillet. I am hoping you carried on to eat the other half left on the plate, and didn't get up and leave it... :oO

rowan said...

The picture through the lock is really cool. I like the 3d effect very much indeed. The guy with the blue head adds an interesting touch, as well. he must be a Scot.

Dr. Bob said...

I am glad that you liked the guy with the blue head. I also thought that his devotion to Scotland was admirable.

rowan said...

Yeah, he rocks! The cold may have enhanced his natural Pictish pale-blue hue, underneath the brighter layer of woad.

rowan said...

The correct Scottish term for our native pallor, is "peely-wally". I like it.

More blog! More blog! I say this whilst wincing at my selfishness, cos I know yer mega-busy. Still, I mumble in a small persistent whine, functioning at the level of effective white noise, "mooore blooog." :op

A mom in the 'burbs said...

I add to the whine--mooooore bloooog....

Amazing photos and history. Wow, wow, wow.

Fish looks yuuuuummmmmmyyyyyy.

Rowan said...

Burbmom: Hello! I want to acknowledge your priority in originating the forthright "more blog" epithet/slogan/warcry.

Such things are quickly subsumed into blogverse-speak, but I kind of feel a plagiaristic prickle, and so am crying out for more blog, but giving due acclaim to the author of the cool phrase. is a little unfair, all this fabulicious food photography. Especially when a person is eating fat free yoghurt. :o( I want broadband Wonkavision. My ISP does not allow me to download and sample. Mayhap one day it will.

Blog on!