I’m pleased to bring you another installment of my explorations of literary London! But before we get to the serious stuff…
This happened today:
Harry Potter wasn’t the only thing I got to geek out about today. (Although… since coming here, have I really ever stopped geeking out about everything? No. No, I haven’t.)
Anyways, to get to more hard-core lit, today I toured Westminster Abbey with my friend, Rebecca. This morning we walked to the nearest station and hopped on the first train to Waterloo, where we then walked to Parliament Square. Will I ever get over the thrill of walking under Big Ben? I certainly hope not!
Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the Abbey. But it was absolutely beautiful. I’ve been in cathedrals before in the United States, but never anything this grand and soaked in history. Wow. I still get shivers thinking about walking around in there.
Westminster Abbey is at the heart of British culture.
It’s where monarchs are crowned.
It’s where monarchs are married.
It’s where monarchs are buried.
We were given audio tour guides to help us appreciate the full history of the place. Rebecca and I both got very excited when we realized that the guides were guided by the voice of Jeremy Irons. As I walked from point to point, I felt like Scar from The Lion King was showing me around… which I found very ironic.
As we wandered around, there was an afternoon communion service about to start. Neither Rebecca nor myself belong to the Anglican Church, but we thought… why not go? How often do you have the chance to worship and take communion in Westminster Abbey? So we did! It was a bit awkward, to be honest, ’cause I’m not used to written, formal prayers and endless standing and sitting.
There was something really special about taking a moment with God in such a beautiful, opulent place. It got me thinking about worship and prayer. God was present within Westminster, yes. But He was just as present this morning as I sat on my floor in my little dorm room reading my Bible. You don’t have to go anywhere to find God. He’s no more with you in the grandest of cathedrals than in the simplest of places. It’s a beautiful thought, and a reassuring one. I’m very grateful that, in one day, I could experience both.
Westminster Abbey is not only a place for monarchs and church deacons. It’s a place for tombs. Important figures from all across England’s history have been buried amid the Abbey’s gilded walls. The first few graves we got to see belonged to Charles Darwin, Winston Churchill, and Sir Isaac Newton. There was tomb after tomb belonging to various monarchs, including Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots.
My favorite part of the whole tour, however, was Poet’s corner. It’s the section of the church dedicated to British writers. Crammed within a single area are the final resting places of Chaucer, Tennyson, Byron, Dickens, Kipling, Spenser, Eliot, and many, many others. There were also memorials to writers like Shakespeare, Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, and countless more I can’t even think of. It was absolutely incredible. Right there, within feet of each other, lay the ashes of the hands that penned the words I have lovingly studied over the past few years of college. I got really emotional and wordlessly walked from Chaucer to Dickens over and over again, looking at all the names inscribed on the floor. Are there even words to describe how a literature major feels when she sees the graves of her heroes? No. There really aren’t.
After our tour and a stop by the gift shop, Rebecca and I headed to the National Gallery. I stopped briefly in on Sunday, but that place is enormous. We selected a wing and began wandering among the paintings. I’m incredibly grateful I took Art History last semester. There were so many artists I knew in the section we covered today (I believe it was Baroque just past Impressionism)–Caravaggio, Seurat, Turner, Constable, Manet. (As Turner is one of the most famous British painters, there were many of his work on display. They were incredible!) I was able to identify a Cézanne from across the room without looking at the sign. My professor would be so proud! I fell head over heels in love with Monet and Renior all over again. (I’ll definitely be making my home in those galleries… I can never get enough Monet.) Seeing a wall of Van Gough was pretty incredible as well. When I was there the other day, I spotted several paintings that I actually studied in my class, from Holbein to Ucello to Leonardo da Vinci! Next time I go (yes, there will be a next time… there will be several next times), I’m going to seek out some Rembrandt and Reubens.
Our day in London ended by visiting King’s Cross Station, where we got our photos taken at Platform 9 3/4 and loitered in the Harry Potter store. It was lovely.
So… that completes my second installment of Literary London! Goodness… I’m going to be so cultured by the time I come home in three months, Minnesota isn’t going to know what to do with me!