Thursday, July 28, 2011

Westminster Abbey

For the first two days here, I'd bought a 48 hour ticket to the Big Bus Tour thingy. The idea is that there are three bus lines (a lot of overlap between the two I rode on). The blue line runs a big loop, and plays information on tapes. The red line runs much of the blue line loop, but has live commentors (who were LOTS of fun when I heard them). I don't know about the other line, because I never got to it. The ticket also included the boat ride I took yesterday (which is why I went then).

The bus was a GREAT way for me to get the beginnings of my bearings, for sure. Today was my first day totally travelling by subway, and it's complicated because I'm near the Paddington Station, which is normally served by the Bakerloo line, the Circle line, the district line, and um, er... something else?

But, from now until the end of August, the Circle and District line parts are closed here. So I'm basically learning alternative routes. I AM learning, though! The construction is part of the huge effort to get everything ready for the London Olympics in 2012. And I have to say, from what I've seen, they're really working hard on the infrastructure.

Today I went to Westminster Abbey. It was, amazing. Totally amazing. I didn't take pictures inside, because you're not allowed to, but... did I mention, amazing? The best parts: when I went in, one of the docent folks told me that there would be a service in the King Edward the Confessor chapel, and since that's normally closed except for worship, I might be interested. I was. So I went. And there I was, sitting with Edward the Confessor, Edward Longshanks, Edward III, Richard II, Henry V. Pretty amazing place, imagine. I'm not a big monarchist, but these, these were some powerful folks.

The priest was really friendly, and we chatted a bit after, and she suggested I go to visit the Chapel of St Faith. She said it's open for private prayer, but it's fine to go in and sit, just open the door. So, I continued on my way, thinking to keep my eyes open for it.

I saw the tomb of Henry Cary (or Carey), Lord Hunsdon. If you're a Shakespeare type, you're nodding. If not, you maybe haven't heard of him, but he was the Lord Chamberlain of Queen Elizabeth I. The Lord Chamberlain was one of the three most important officials in the Elizabethan household court; basically, he controlled who got in for an appointment, or who got an appointment in the first place, and when, etc. But that's not why he's important to people like me. Nope. Remember you've heard of Shakespeare's playing company, the King's Men, right? But before there was a King of England in 1603, and the law was changed so that only members of the Royal family could sponsor a playing company, there was the Lord Chamberlain's Men! So that's a cool connection.

Also very cool: I learned that Carey was Elizabeth I's cousin! His Mom was Anne Boleyn's sister, Mary. (And since H8 might have had relations with Mary, Carey might have been even more closely related to Elizabeth.)

I saw Poet's corner, and touched Chaucer's tomb and Spenser's (which, I read, was originally put up by Anne Clifford, when she was the Countess of Dorset! Yes, THE Anne Clifford), and well, that was pretty amazing, very moving.

I can't say why, but it was. And shortly after that was when I saw the door to St. Faith's Chapel. So I warily opened it, and went in, and sat down. I was the only person in there for a while, and then people came in, and then left, and I closed the door again, and just sat in the quiet. It was, well, just calming and lovely, sitting in the very simple, quiet chapel, a few feet from the hustle and bustle. I was sort of surprised to see something so quiet and relatively uncluttered and unadorned.

And then I went on, looking at more of the Abbey

I was interested in seeing monuments and such to some fairly minor folks, and then thought to ask about some really important but minor folks. Mostly, I was thinking of Henry, the older son of James I, who died as a kid, and also Arthur, the older son of Henry VII (yes, Henry VIII had a big brother), who also died as a kid. So I asked one of the docent folks. He had this little book about where people are buried, and figured out that Arthur was buried in Worcestor Cathedral, but couldn't figure out Henry. Oh well. (He didn't quite believe me at first that Henry VIII had an older brother, but then he found him listed.)

Then, I was taking a break for water at the cafe, and there was that same book! So, of course, you know how I feel about dead guys! I bought it, and I was able to find Henry, and he was buried in the chapel of Henry VII, along with Elizebeth, the Queen of Bohemia (James I's daughter), and a whole bunch of other folks. They're all in the floor in the chapel near Mary Stuart and Margaret Beaufort. I backtracked to visit. I'm probably the only person who noticed that little marker all day, and made anything of it.

Finally, I made my way around the nave, and saw Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin. (I saw Handel in Poet's corner, too). But then I was surprised to see Edward Elgar right near them (it's a memorial, and not his grave site). I don't know, it was weirdly moving, maybe because I don't think of him as a really dead guy? And I do like his music.

And that was my day!

I've been thinking about what I found most moving. I mean, I expected, Elizabeth I to be, but it wasn't. Nor were any of the kings, really, though I enjoyed the service in the Edward the Confessor Chapel, and was amazed to be surrounded by so many kings. And, of course, I couldn't help but think about that moment in Henry V where Henry talks about having Richard II reinterred with great ceremony, and there I was at the tomb he refers to.

Chaucer and Spenser were moving. I touched the monument of each. I hope that's okay. (At least I wasn't walking over them.) And Darwin and Newton. And Elgar. And, of course, just the sheer overwhelming number of tombs and monuments. I kept trying to figure out the Latin inscriptions, especially for the medieval looking monuments/tombs, the ones that look like a flattened knight. (I finally remembered that "miles" means "knight" and that helped. Because otherwise, these guys were all sharing the same name.)

For three days, it's been pretty darned incredible! I have an appointment at Buckingham Palace tomorrow. (A ticket appointment; seriously, what would I even have to say to Elizabeth II?) (That would be a good contest! I could send the winner a postcard! What could I possibly say to E2?)

Wish me a good night's sleep!


  1. If you met the Queen, you'd just say Hello! Or more formally, "Hello, Your Majesty".

    I love going into the side chapels in cathedrals. They are spaces where people have prayed for centuries, and that sense of peace is often present. There's something about the connections through time that is really moving. And the C of E is very good at the short services -- they are moments to stop, think, focus.

    Glad to know where Prince Henry is. Have fun at the Palace!

  2. It's so wonderful to be able to read your adventures as you have them. Love hearing about all of it! Keep enjoying everything, and please keep sharing!

  3. the mind completely boggles: chaucer, spenser, newton, darwin, all in the same day? and yeah, a lot of other dead people and great stuff.

    as a californian, i'm impressed if something is 200 years old.

  4. I LOVED Westminster Abbey. What a tremendous place. The history there is astounding. I, too, thought about Henry V when seeing Richard II's grave. I didn't really know just how many important people were buried there when I went, and I was so moved. I thought, "Chaucer is here? Seriously???" It was surprising and wonderful.

    It's sobering - in a good way - to be in the midst of history. I so wish I lived closer so I could experience it more.