Standing on the shoulders of giants
H ow are you? We are at summer’s end now, how was it so far? I miss writing to you and now I have so many stories want to share with you because we were back from London!
I still can’t believe we were there, a completely spontaneous trip to London gave me great pleasure, particularly the literature-filled places, which reminded me of school when started to learn English culture. Here I am gonna share with you everything!
Let’s start at Westminster, the most important abbey in London.
After we drop off our luggage, we couldn’t slow down our pace and off we went to explore the city. Taking the tube (metro system) is very easy using oyster card and soon enough from Buckingham we arrived at St. Jame’s park station.
Welcome to London, ladies, and gentlemen, full of sunshine, great air, ah… no, I would be lying if I said that. It’s pouring rain in the afternoon, and not surprisingly, it was already a long line at the gate to wait for the security check. Well, the weather is not the best but still, this didn’t stop us seeing the Abbey.
We went on a late summer Wednesday which is special because of late opening times. More on that and many tips at the end of the post.
Westminster abbey, plays an important role throughout England’s history since the 11th century. It may be familiar to us because of royal wedding ceremonies hosted here but Westminster is far more than that. I have to admit that I didn’t know much about England history before but after several less well-known stories I learned and liked it a lot.
These are the main functions of the Abbey:
- Welcome the new members of the royal family services.
- Worship the God and kings
First, let’s start with the coronation, there are 39 monarchs have been crowned in Westminster Abbey. From Henry VIII’s second wife Anne Boleyn to the latest in 1953, Queen Elizabeth II, the Abbey was closed for several months for renovation for extra seats from 2000 to 8000.
Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation was fully rehearsed, in the ’60s, it was the first time coronation was televised. It was a success, but it wasn’t always like that… in fact, there are several failure moments before: Not only the crown is essential but the Coronation ring, as a symbol of ‘kingly dignity’ is too. Since the thirteenth century, it was traditional to include a ruby as the principal stone in the ring. At Queen Victoria’s coronation, the archbishop tried to force the ring on the ring finger, while the ring was designed to go on the little finger… Queen Victoria had to soak her hand in iced water after the ceremony. oops!
The other story is at the coronation of William I in 1066, when the congregation shouted their acclamations, the soldiers outside thought riot had broken out and set fire to the surrounding houses. William I trembled with fright and urged the archbishop to complete the ceremony as quickly as possible! phfff…..
The last story I feel so sad about, but it surely happened, is at the coronation of George IV. His estranged wife, Caroline of Brunswick was locked off outside the Abbey… poor lady, I feel so bad for her, you can see the story by a very well done movie- Royal scandal (1997), which Richard Grant and Susan Lynch play a very unhappy mingled royal relationship.
Second, the important ceremonies hosted here is wedding ceremonies, such as Prince William, dutch of Cambridge and Princess Catherine.
Third, a personal favorite is the monument part of the Abbey. some 3000 people are buried in the Abbey, there are 600 tombs and other substantial monuments, and more than 300 memorial stones and stained glass windows.
After entering the Abbey, the left side has some part of monuments, you will start to see the giants who made Britain great since the 10th century. From musician Handel, Florence Nightingale to Churchill… many of the greats are there.
There is a corner called Poet’s corner, which included burials and memorials from William Blake, Byron, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Keats, John Milton, Oscar Wilde, and Shakespeare. However, some poets lived unconventional lives and thus forfeited their place in the Abbey. It was only when much later more understandable generations forgave them and found a place for them. For example Lord Byron was not honored with an Abbey memorial until 1969. Oscar Wilde, whose homosexuality scandalized society, is commemorated in a window overlooking the Poet’s corner in 1995.
Not only the Poet’s corner is respectful, but the nave of the Abbey is also awe-inspiring, the scientist’s monuments included Faraday, Charles Darwin, Stephen Hawking, and Issac Newton, whose monument stands in the nave against the choir screen.
We stood in front of Newton for a while, see the status composed with a celestial globe with the signs of the Zodiac, on top of the globe sits a figure of Astronomy leaning upon a book. Two little winged boys hold a scroll of his mathematical design manuscript. Ah, Newton, the great mathematical man who dedicated his whole life (no marriage or any passion for women) to create great works.
Do you think that’s all Westminster Abbey has to offer? hold a second, because you will find an incredible monument here: Queen Elizabeth I !. From all the history books and adapted movies of her, every time her story gave me goosebumps and moved me deeply, what an incredibly fearless, witty queen, lead England to a different level. She is forever resting here, the vivid marble effigy gave me a good idea of how she looks. The large tomb indeed is one of the most impressive ones in the Abbey, with her half-sister Mary also buried here. On the opposite of the chapel lies Elizabeth I’s rival- Mary, Queen of Scot, who eventually was executed on Elizabeth’s orders. However, her son James I who succeeded the throne on the death of Elizabeth I then erected Mary’s tomb grander than Elizabeth I. Wow, for sure the royal battle is not ending even after death!
I did not get from Westminster the religious awe that you experience in other churches in other countries. It fell more like a celebration of Britain. I felt the same at St. Paul’s Cathedral later on. These two British churches are indeed not mainly for a religious function, but mostly, the showcase of the monument of the great British marks that highlight of the place.
This made me think of Henry VIII and the impact of breaking the relationship with the Roman Catholic Church. It changed the focus of the religion. What do you think of this part?
At the end of our visit, we stepped in the south cloister walk. The Abbey does not allow pictures except here. It’s pretty nice to get some fresh air and wander a bit when admiring the greats. Truly Westminster Abbey is remarkable and put forward the names and history of Britain profoundly. we will continue to discover you, Britain!
Tips for Westminster Abbey:
- Book your ticket on their official website! It has a discount price will save you a lot of time and get an advantage of entering early!
- I highly suggest also buy the guide book when you are booking your ticket, you will get 1 pound cheaper than buying at the front desk.
- Please come earlier at least 30 mins before the opening time to go through the security check, this is the top attraction for visitors, the earlier the better!
- There are not many introductions, either you can rent the audio guide or buy the guide book to do a self-tour.
- The Summer Wednesday lates is 4:30-6 pm, half-price discount for the ticket. It is a good way to visit here at this time which is fewer people than usual (no group tour allowed this time). However, also has its cons, which is the small museum Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries is not open at that time. Although it may sound bad, according to our experience, the 1.5 hr to see the Abbey was barely enough.
- Sure, you can try the London Pass, which includes the ticket for Westminster Abbey, since we decided to visit it on Wednesday summer lates time, we did not do this, but I will write the full discussion about London Pass later.
- Photograph is forbidden in most of the Abbey, except the cloister walk. please don’t try to sneak the photograph, I have seen many visitors were scolded by the guards.
- Be respectful by talking in low volume.
- Please set your google map to Westminster Abbey, there is another church nearby with a similar name: Westminster church. It is a few blocks away, we also checked it out, but for sure the Abbey has more to offer.
- There is a smaller church- St. Margaret’s church worth visiting, nearby which the great Poet John Milton lived and often worshipped with his wife.There is a memorial window dedicated to him. We did not make it there since the opening time is short. But it’d put on the plan I had more days to spare in London.
I was really moved by all the giants of Britain! so amazed all the time! Have you ever visit Westminster Abbey? Which monument is your favorite? Please share with me!
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