On our trip, we spent a day going to the big churches of London: Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral. Like everything else in London, they exude history and we wanted to honor both of them.
We first went to Westminster Abbey. Of the two, it’s my favorite. Part of it is because it is located in Parliament square so you can see Big Ben, Parliament, the amazing statues of Churchill, Nelson Mandela and more. I’ll admit its a bit of an ordeal to get into Westminster, even with a tour guide, with the long lines, high fees and the rain (specialty of the day). But once you get in, it’s incredible.
The church was built 1065, one year before the Norman conquest, by Edward the Confessor. He’s now a saint and is supposed to be the only saint in England still undisturbed in his resting places. (St. Thomas a la Beckett was not so lucky). The building was reworked several hundred years later to make it even more impressive.
The number of luminaries buried there are impressive. Sir. Isaac Newton is one of buried there and has a marble monument of Newton surrounded by his famous works with children playing with scientific instruments below him. It’s pretty neat. Passing by the high altar, you pass several kings including Richard II (my favorite from the Shakespeare plays) and Edward I (different from Edward from the Confessor). Earlier this year, we accidentally went a tour of Edward I by viewing all the castles of his Iron ring in Wales so this was a nice rounding out of that tour.
One of the side chapels has Elizabeth I and Mary I. It’s interesting how they put both of them together since they were so different. I have no idea how they got along as children but I suspect not well. There is the Henry VII Lady Chapel, built by Henry VII in 1503, at the far end of the church with this beautiful white lace ceiling. Near
the ceiling is a pattern of symbols for different monarchs, a fleur de lis, a Tudor rose and more. Apparently, it was a propaganda device to show how the Tudors were part of the royalty since their connection to royalty was often questioned. There are bright, bold heraldic banners of Order of the Knights of Bath. On the other side of the chapel, there was Mary Queen of Scots, fascinating that they would bury her and Queen Elizabeth so close together.
And then there is Poet’s corners. Now, the difficulty is that there are a lot of monuments to folks who are not actually buried there. But I think Chaucer and Handel are buried there. (People who become British can be buried in Westminster). One observation made about Britain and art is that Britain has traditionally been a more literary society than visual. Well, that observation bears out a bit with Poet’s corner since there aren’t any obvious artists.
Then we hurried on to St. Paul’s Cathedral. Thankfully the rain had subsided so we could see the gleaming white building rise before us. Upon seeing it, I am reminded why it was so important to Londoners that it wasn’t completely destroyed in the Blitz. It too is fairly expensive though the lines to get in are shorter. However, we decided to race up to the top of the Cathedral which is at least 500 steps in one direction. It’s quite a jaunt through narrow passage ways, wrought iron shaky staircases with a fairly substantial line. But once you get to the very top, it’s an incredible view of London. The sun was beginning to set so you got the rays hitting the building in just the right way to brighten the edifices.
The main space of the Cathedral is beautiful with mosaics and statues. In the basement, Duke of Wellington and Nelson are buried in these slightly daunting monumental tombs.
Of the two, I much prefer Westminster Abbey since i think there is so much more to see. But St. Paul’s has the view and its lovely points.