Westminster Abbey, Part One

15 03 2011

For Westminster Abbey, I chose to keep an oral diary of sorts, recording my thoughts as we toured the church.  This entry is long, and likely of limited interest.  But as it is part of my trip journal, it is included in my blog.

We walked in and immediately to our left are statues, George Canning, Charles John, Earl Canning, John Holmes – we are watching them actually doing conservation work to a statue to our right, William Pitt, the Earl of Chatham.  Pitt was a statesman, he died after getting worked up in a speech regarding the colonization and taxation of the American colonies.  While I know his story only vaguely, his burial is ornate and massive.  These statues are all adorned with angels and cherubs and just the most ostentatiousness memorial for names I venture most modern people don’t know.  Not that they weren’t important, but I would expect this type of display for royal heads of state or perhaps even God himself, not mere mortals.

This conservation is so unique, a long feather duster with a hose attached, just lightly gliding over and not actually touching, but blowing the dust free and capturing it with the duster.  Someone remarked they are cleaning it for the wedding, but I cannot see who spoke to know if that is an official word or a layperson conversing.

Further on to the right is a memorial to Viscount Palmerson and a variety of Captains William Blane, William Blair, Manners – I think this must be a general military memorial here.  I’m being not so politely shooed along here.  It’s startling really; it’s a Tuesday morning about oh 10:30 now, and this place is packed with people.  Wall to wall.  I can only imagine how busy it must be on a weekend when the 9-5 workday crowd decides to visit.

This is an absolutely amazing place to be, you walk in to this grand hall and as far as the eye can see in all directions are homages and effigies to all these remarkable people.  We’re not allowed cameras so I’ve no idea what is on the ceiling, it is so far up and even it is very obviously covered in detailed work.  There is this hrmm like a fleur di lis, only it isn’t – it’s four pronged – with magnificent colouring of gold and crimson and a sapphire or cobalt.  The lighting is all chandeliers as best I can tell, I see no other electronic light fixtures.

It looks like to the left is the most natural course to follow here and seeing as there is literally a sea of people pushing us along, we’re going in that direction.  Robert Peel stands to the left here, like a marble gatekeeper.  This first room is the Chapel of Saint Michael and it appears to be off limits, but it has this wooden arch – the wood is so obviously ancient, I wonder if it isn’t at least five hundred years old, and inside the room there is a wooden platform of sorts held up with wooden pillars and on the face of the platform in this chapel it is seemingly held up by ushers on their knees.  I cannot tell who the effigy is of as this room is closed off and peering inside is terribly difficult.  I presume he was military, as there is a mural on the wall with a battle scene.  This is stunning to me that a person could live their afterlife in such a hallowed place as this and have their memory captured in such a majestic form as this.


I just noticed that even the floor has entombments to individuals, or perhaps just memorial plaques – I’m uncertain and it’s unsettling a bit as I always try to make care to not step on the graves, but presuming these are entombments it would be wholly impossible.

Directly across from St Michael’s chapel there are statues of women and they’re all beheaded, eight women in total and all but one has their head removed.  The roughness of the stone makes it obvious this was not the artist’s intent.  The fifth one remains intact, I question the significance of this action.  The engraving here is foreign, French perhaps?  I believe…something “valiant” perhaps and” Earl of Pembroke”.  The wooden arched doorway here too is ancient wood and likewise appears to be off limits.  The wall reads…”Hope…Nomen…Amore…” the last word is at an angle I cannot read, looks to begin with an M.  The lighting is not the best, I presume there are concerns for the damage to the work by brighter lighting perhaps?

Here now is the tomb of King Edward, the Confessor.  Oddly enough, it is far more simplistic than the tombs we have seen in this short walk of less influential individuals.  Not at all the ostentatious design you might anticipate for so great a king, perhaps not as great at the time of his burial as we might think him today.  He would have been king around 1000 CE and if I recall he was somewhat responsible for the earliest reigning in of creating one England with his dominance in Wales, Umbria and Scotland.  He wasn’t terribly holy though, despite his name.  He also was the disposer of the great Canut too, if memory serves me.  Nonetheless, his grave is very simple.

The wave of people is moving us along, it’s very difficult to stand in one place to study and examine the beauty.  This next small chapel is that of St. John the Baptist.  If this is not the oldest room in this church I would be completely surprised, it’s so…no words here, but this is pristinely saved, yet obviously older than time.  On the wall there is an effigy, I am presuming of Saint John, and a marbled statue of Saint Mary.  There is a grave in here, Henri de Vere, Earl of Oxford.

There is a set of graves here, or effigies, of a what appears to be a royal family.  How breathtaking.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so lovely before in all my life.  The engraving is in Latin, 1596 I can make out.   There is a magnificent coat of arms and it looks like this belongs to Thomas Cecil.  If memory serves me, he was the right arm of Elizabeth the first.  Next is a Francesca Burgess ex nobilia familia, so outside of the family…Dorothea Nevill ex nobili domini …and another, religious, perhaps a pope or saint or abbot, no name that I can see.  It’s very old.   Next to him, Richard Harounden, abbot 1420-1440.   Another here is even older, another abbot, de Colchester.

This room I’m not sure but I would believe it to be possibly 600 years old or so, there is a small room that we walked through to enter the chapel of Saint John and now as we leave, you can notice that at some point it was its own room, not merely a hallway.  There are wrought iron gates here, or a gate rather, very old and painted over many times with a thick paint.  This hallway, which again looks to have once been its own room has the words Sanctus Erasmus up above, sanctuary of Erasmus?  Or is sanctus saint?  Oh how I really wish I’d refreshed on Latin, I’d no idea it would be so prevalent here.  It slipped my mind that through til Henry the eighth this was a devout Catholic nation for many centuries.  Erasmus, if I remember was a Christian martyr in Diocletianus’ reign.

I believe this next area, to the left of the chapel we just left, should be the north ambulatory.  Yes, there’s a sign.  So it is.

There is promptly a tomb here, 1507, I cannot make it out well.  May Elizabeth his wife…the year of our Lord 1500…It takes up the centre of the room here, just magnificent, Daubeney.  I don’t recognize this name but it is of fine marble.  The effigies are in full dress with armor and it appears he was a knight, judging from his costume medallions.  The detail here, it’s unbelievable.  Here I stand in this magnificent giant of a church and this one individual grave site has so much detail.  On the shoes of this effigy there are little figurines with rosaries clutched, friars perhaps.  Faint etchings, it looks painted over, perhaps to forget the fact England was once Catholic?  But nonetheless, this detail.  Just amazing.

King Charles’ I bedchamber knight, his wife…the number of people here raised to such significance.  Unknown really for anything to a common person I would think, considering my passion for history and some of these I’ve no idea who they may be – not that I know it all, but some of these names just no bells are ringing at all.  I’m floored with a lack of words for the extensive passion invested in memorializing these individuals for all of time.  The dates here…Avril…April, LXXVII something 87…1587 maybe, my Latin oh lord I wish I’d studied again.  Bromley, rings a bell, maybe not.  Let’s see that precedes Elizabeth the first, well her death, but would certainly be someone during her reign.  Nonetheless, he has children, eight it appears, sitting on their knees around him, he’s in a robe.

We’re being moved along again.  This lady here, Frances, countess of Sussex, the “pillow” as it were, for her feet is a porcupine.  How unique.  She wears a crown, you’d think her royal, but no.  Leaving this room, all of the knights banners and shields adorn the walls.  Through an iron gate and ancient wooden doorframe in an arch.  Across the way in the stone are more crests but I cannot get to them for the people in order to look closer.

The sea is moving us to another room, up a small set of steps.  I think I am going east now, but no promises, I’ve lost my sense of direction.

Oh my, I can feel my excitement growing.  This is the room I’ve most longed to visit, the tombs of Mary and Elizabeth.  That these two sisters lie together for eternity in some postmortem attempt to create the sisterly bond that wasn’t, it is something that speaks to me.  There is a strong door to their chamber of old wood and white walls.

I’m stuck behind a small tour of little elementary aged children, perhaps 7 or 8 in age at most.  I’ve fallen in step behind them as it is priceless watching their wide eyed horror as their guide is explaining the story of the two princes.  I can only imagine being so young and in such an amazing place as this, learning how an uncle wanted the thrown so badly he would imprison and (possibly) order the murdering of his young little nephews.  And sure enough, here is a small statue to them with what looks to be an urn.  The guide has confirmed this is an urn and that it holds bones found in the Tower.  I cannot tear my eyes away from the face of this one girl, her eyes almost welling up as she stares wide eyed and mouth agape.  The horror.

…remember before God all those who divided at the Reformation by different convictions, lay down their lives for Christ and conscience sake…  This is at the memorial near Mary and Elizabeth.  How fitting.

There are here golden Tudor roses and fleur di lis on the side…and there she lay in all her glory.  I feel almost compelled to kneel as I come so close to such a woman.  How many years I’ve studied and admired her and now, so close, that I could lay my hand upon her grave – if it were permitted.  Sadly, she is raised on a platform and I’m unable to view much of her effigy except what I can see of the sides.  It appears to be alabaster and I can make out her sceptor in hand.

The image below is not my own, but from a LIFE magazine article in 2008.  Here you can see as well the cleaning technique I mentioned above for the entryway.

She, the conservationist, is very obviously (to me) raised up as when walking through this room your eye level is about that of the gate with gilded roses.  And the lighting was nowhere near as superior as shown here.

Elizabeth’s crown and her jewelry, to detail this orally there are not enough adjectives in the language.  She looks as regal as she should, lying here in marble.  Her initials line the base.  The arch over her tomb is in Latin, “beati pacifici”…oh my Latin…let’s see beati is to bless, pacifici is to create peace, I think.  Bless the maker of peace, perhaps?  I’m not certain.

I’ve become separated from Glenn and Kayla and Alannah too, they seem to have been pushed on ahead while I am still a good distance behind the tour children, who have also been shuffled along.  But I don’t want to leave this room, yet it wasn’t what I had hoped.  Too much noise, too many people, not enough room to offer this woman a proper thanksgiving or moment of thought.

I know that Mary is here, beneath her, I believe, but I see no reference nor effigy to her.  There is another up ahead, on a massive pillar, but I don’t believe it is her.  James had them buried together, practically sharing a space, unless my memory fails me.  Which the latter is wholly possible.

There is an area here, set aside as the innocents corner, looks to be the tombs of royal children – I see Sophia, I cannot make out the other names.  There are three canine creatures with pig snouts and wings seemingly guarding the tribute.  And then three saints, no identification as to whom, but they do appear to be in holy garb.  And five angels or cherubs.  MDCVII as a burial date for a Maria and then Sophia.

I’m finally now able to leave this room, continuing left.  We appear to now be entering the room of the Order of the Garter or Bath, I can’t remember which it is called.  The banners and crests of all the knights are here.

Glenn did take a picture here, thinking that we were now in the part where you are permitted to use photography, seeing as several others did so here as well, but evidently no – as a lady quickly rushed up to tell him to put it away.

At least through this image you can see how even the ceiling has the most amazing detail – like nothing could dare be overlooked or left plain.

There are chairs in place on either side, with a black and white marble checkered patterned floor between.  There are swords, crests, banner, helms for each knight at each chair it appears.  I’m not very familiar with the knighthood process, whether these chairs are pieces of antiquity or still in use during ceremonies.  I’m not even certain if this is where the ceremony takes place.  Nonetheless, it is madly grand, just too much to absorb.  As I look at the helms, it is obvious they would not be actively worn, but there is a detailed art work on each, molded or designed, but like a miniature figurine interpretation of the crest.

The back wall there has about 15 statues and then at least another 3 lower, no idea to see who or what of or even period dress.

The easement here to the left of the room as we continue, it is very old.  I would almost venture to guess nearing 1000 years.  It leads to another room that is prohibited.  I cannot even make out who is buried within, I am going to presume a royal association due to the crown and the inlaid gold.  Catherine and the family…four children and above are two angels.  Three saints overlook the family, and at their feet are mourners, 2 males in armor – knights perhaps, and a lady.  There is a placard here stating Henry and Elizabeth, though I don’t see a male figure and I’m not sure if the sign is for this room or the next.  I can see now the tomb which names Henri who died in 1509, so let’s see that would make it the seventh kind and okay yes that would be Elizabeth of York then, Edward’s daughter.  There is this rather large pipe organ of sorts on wheels obstructing most of the view and seeing as this room is blocked off already, it is only even more difficult to see inside.  This room, what you can see, is as I keep saying, stunning.

I do find it interesting that much like in Rosslyn chapel, here too there are boxes cut into the stonework of the buttresses.  At Rosslyn some have tried to identify these as music boxes that equivalate with a note on the scale and if properly played would create some magical event or such.  I cannot help but wonder if the boxes were simply a common styling in that era, as these would have been constructed in similar time periods.  This hall was started I think by Henry the sixth, making that about 1450s and Rosslyn was begun in 1456.

Edward here is buried, the boy king Edward.  Oddly, he has only 2 saints guarding him instead of the typical three I’ve seen at nearly every other royal figure.  There is an empty place in the opening where the saints are placed, as though there should have been a third, but it is missing if it ever were.

There is an obelisk here, very new looking.  Not certain of its significance at all, but it looks recent, as in the last hundred years.  Certainly not as old as it should be if it were Edward’s, he died in 1551 or 3 – I can’t remember.  Nonetheless, this pillar is nowhere near 500 years old.

I’m walking back through the garter room again, looking up you can see the Royal Air Force glass here, in honour of those who died in the war.  It creates such a unique light on the whole room.

We’re now in a room which isn’t really a room at all, more like a once massively wide hallway that now has tombs strewn down the way.  First here is just strikingly beautiful, only name on it I can see is Margaret Stuart.  On the floor is a type of zippered bag, like an old style bank night deposit bag, and someone has hand written on it in black marker “countess of Lennos’ fireblanket”.  What that would be is beyond me.   Her grave makes reference to her ancestry, great-granddaughter of Edward IV, granddaughter to Henry VII, niece to Henry VIII, cousin Edward VI, brother James V, son Henry I, grandchild James VI (the latter three Scotland).

Mary, Queen of Scots, is ahead. almost out of sight, her “bed” is on a pillar so high.  There is a lion wearing a crown at her feet.  I wasn’t actually aware she was buried here, I thought she was up in Scotland.  Very interesting and her effigy is very ornate, this whole room is really – especially when contrasted to that of Elizabeth’s.  I suspect that James must have had her buried during his reign, not likely any others would have went through such effort to glorify her in this manner.  Like Edward, she appears to be missing a saint, there are three pillars and just two saints to guard over her.

There is an array of burials here, Queen Anne, Prince George,King William the third, Queen Mary the second, King Charles II…the latter two, I believe, are interestingly enough standing erect.  It’s very odd really, like something you might expect at Madame Tussaud’s or a carnival.  They’re just out of place.  I can’t put my finger on it but it’s strange.  He’s jutting out at passersby, like don’t forget me.  His attire is almost akin to a jester from cartoons.  This is so far from the regal nature of other royals here remembered.  And unless I am mistaken, these effigies are wax – not alabaster like most of the others here.

On the wall, there is a tapestry but I cannot make out what it of for an effigy is in the way.  Craning about I can make out what appears to be the stage of Christ, being removed from the cross after the crucifixion.  The effigy is that of Margaret Beaufort we believe, Kayla just found a small inscription.

I’ve just been “keep left”‘ed out of the room by the sea of visitors, a new wave that seems to have caught up to us now.  One gentleman is leading the “keep left” crusade and there doesn’t seem to be much of an alternative.  Holy crap! The steps leaving this chapel are steep – I’m not entirely certain this is the way in which we entered but it’s too late to look back now.  These steps are about two feet wide with easily an eight inch height to them.  This feels like a fire drill or such and you can just take a fleeting glance at the walls as you are herded along.  Ugh.

We’ve walked straight into King Henry the fifth and we should see the coronation chair but instead a sign states it is being cleaned, I can only presume for the wedding.  There is a lot of cleaning ongoing in here at this moment.  I wonder if the stone of destiny would be hauled back for the event, or is it only for coronation ceremonies that the Brits will steal it back from the Scots?

We’ve now been fed into another chapel, and I have to say with any less than a million pairs of eyes, you’ll miss something in this church.  Though I’ve tried to be diligent I know I’ve likely only seen a quarter of what I’ve walked past…if even that.

Closing this chapter now for length (and the fact I’ve had this file open two days while listening to my dictaphone and my computer is begging to be restarted).  Will complete the other half of the file once I’ve finally caught up on my sleep more.




2 responses

24 03 2011

If you click on the picture of the Order of the Bath that we took, it can be enlarged and you can actually see the detail on the ceilings, as well as the figurines on the helms of the knight’s armor along the sides of the picture.

2 07 2011

I love how you really walk the reaser through the abbey. I was there years ago and reading this just takes me back step by step. Magnificent place, enjoying the memories/

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