Westminster Abbey, Part Two

15 03 2011

This picks up at 27 minutes and 43 seconds in my audio journal of Westminster Abbey, having just left the area where the Coronation Chair should have been.

We’ve been herded into a small chapel and judging by the names here of the children of the lady here entombed – Anne Countess of Warwick, Edward Earl of Hertford, Henry and Jane, Mary Katherine and Elizabeth…this should be Anne Stanhope Seymour’s grave.  I still see no name on the tomb anywhere, just the listing of the names of her offspring and associations with the Grey family – she was the sole witness to the marriage of Catherine Grey, a potential claimant to the throne of England.  But as Anne didn’t step forward to bear witness before the courts, Catherine was held prisoner for being an unmarried mother and eventually died before she was even 30.

The image below is not my own, but is an image I found on the web that is a stunning capture of this overwhelming burial and memorial.  I believe you can click on this image to enlarge it and see the details constructed into this work.  After viewing the image online, I see where I could have found her name instead of guessing at the abbey, which is on the far right engraving.

The alabaster is brilliantly coloured on this memorial, as though it were painted only weeks ago.  I call attention to this because so many effigies in alabaster are aged, as one would expect.  Perhaps the paint quality has something to do with it, I am not certain.

Everywhere you look, as I’ve stated before, unless you have a million eyes with which to see, you will miss something.

We have Philippa, if I can make it out here, death is 1430 something – this grave is exceptionally old and not in very good repair.  Duchess of York it looks like.  The name means little to me, but my familiarity with the Plantagenet periods is minimal.

Next here is Anne, Countess of Oxford and Lady Burleigh.  They are together so I presume there is a relationship – sisters perhaps, as their death dates are 1588 and 1589, respectively.  A man kneels above them, brother?  Father?  Another man below them at the feet, no identification.  And three children, which appear to be girls by the dress.  Oh this is noteworthy…”eyes were dim with tears for those who were dear to him beyond the whole race of womankind”.

It is remarkable to me, saddening in many ways, the passion given to words and thoughts in the past, whereas today they are fleeting and unremarkable all too often.

There is noticeable damage here and I wonder if this is due to the Blitz.  It is more significant than wear and tear and based on the height of the damage, but I thought only fire damage occurred here and nothing to the integral structure.  These are things I wish I had studied more before I left, if only to have a better grasp of what I am seeing.

Before I leave this room, upon exiting, to my left is another wooden tomb, a modern sign reads shrine to Edward the Confessor.  Perhaps I am just overwhelmed but I thought this had already been seen elsewhere.

There is another room here to our left with tombs and I’m skipping it.  I don’t really know what is in the room and I may regret this, but the crowds here are rather overwhelming and I would like to get to more of the other memorials that I know of being here.  Mark my words, I’ll regret this decision.

We’ve walked directly right and see King Richard the second and his wife Anne.  This grave is hard to determine if it is very old, sturdy and stained wood or rather a dark stone in disrepair.  It is certainly aged, though I don’t see a date for either, this would be late 13th century I think, maybe late 14th.  I think he was the 1350s so 14th.  The grave is topped with effigies to he and Anne, they appear to be gold, but I am not sure that it is actual gold, perhaps a paint.  It has significantly little luster to it.  The faces are very long and narrow, the noses sharp and pointed.  Their eyes appear to be opened on the effigy and on the metal or painted in a darker colour, there are fleur de lis again.  While I know the Plantagenet line began with members born in France, that would have been around 1100 and I don’t really understand the significance here for Richard’s memorial acknowledging in symbol, a relationship with France.  Anne was Italian, if I remember rightly.  He had a second wife though who was French, I think, but that marriage was very short.

I stand here, watching several people listening to the audio feeds through their handhelds and I wonder if maybe I would be less lost in history if I had opted that route?  My decision though was grounded in the thought that an unguided tour would allow me greater freedom of appreciation for everything as I came across it.  It’s a bit late now to change my mind and I’m not certain I want to.  Though if I could change my mind at all, it would be to not come in here at all.  I shudder to say this, but I’d no idea the grandeur and complexity, much less how much there is to take in.  And had I realized, I wouldn’t have tried at all.  I doubt even those who work here actually have the time to fully take in all there is with any level of appreciation and knowledge of what they are seeing.

To our right if I am not mistaken would be the statues of the saints – Moses and Peter and Paul and I think David is the fourth.  But it matters not, the area is cordoned off and we are not able to go near.  Which is a shame, because if I am right, and I think I am, that has the paving with the Latin inscriptions from the late 13th century, including one that has a calculation for the end of days.  Instead all we see are cubicle like walls stood about to protect an area and a lot of workers who may be doing cleaning work.  And it’s funny, the queen’s visit should have been yesterday so you would think the cleaning would have been done ahead of her arrival, not following it.

To my left is a new open area, I believe, though I am not yet certain, that this will be what is called Poet’s Corner.  There are two different tour guide workers and a large number of people with them which makes it very difficult to see around them.  I don’t want to stand with them and appear to be getting the tour version of the visit without paying, but I hate to obstruct their view so that I can see what I paid to see.  A line of folks has just decided to do the latter though, so I suppose we’ll follow suit.

Yes, this is indeed the corner!  I can see the paintings now, only faintly and they are very out of the way of easily being seen for some strange yellow box structure that quite obviously doesn’t belong here – and too, the crowd of two groups of tours and the sea of people.

But the statues of the most influential wordworkers the world has ever seen are here.

Foremost, Shakespeare.  He stands, a short looking man in this marble resemblance, but most anyone would know it is him by the dress and the flat bald head.  His arm rests on a stack of massive books, his hand holding loosely a scroll which is pointed outward and if I were a conspiracy theorist, I would say he is ominously pointing out a clue on the scroll, just in the odd way he juts his finger out to call attention to it.  The scroll reads…”the cloud kept towers, the gorgeous palaces, the solemn temples, the great globe itself, yea all which it inherit shall dissolve and like the baseless fabric of a vision leave not a wreck behind”.  He is pointing to temples and the scroll is very difficult to read, you have to sway a bit to catch a shadow in the etching as it looks like perhaps it had paint on it at one point to make it easier to read?  I am not sure.  And it uses the Olde English a lot here, with f’s for s’s and a unique spelling of fabric as fabrick.  I’ve never seen that adaptation of the word.  But I think this is a molested version of a line from the Tempest.

The detail in the marble is fantastic, there are even included the loops of fabric for his buttons on his blouse.  There is a stand which holds the books he rests his elbow upon, and its base has the faces of certain individuals upon it.  One, the farthest left, is very masculine but I believe is meant to represent Elizabeth.  The crown is certainly feminine and the collars are very stiff and layered, as was popular in her time.  Then there is a man next, also royal with a crown, a young figure and I wonder if it isn’t perhaps his Hamlet and not meant to represent a specific living figure?  Maybe Henry instead, it’s certainly a young face and Henry the fifth was one of his works.  The last face to the far right I would venture to guess would be the evil Richard, just screams to me Richard, the monstrous Richard the third, but I don’t know.  The words below the stand are in Latin…something Kent is all I can make out.

This image is not my own, we did not take pictures in the abbey in the prohibited areas so this is one I have found online of Shakespeare’s memorial in the abbey.


You should be able to click on the image to bring out the details.

The master is not buried here, instead he is buried in his home town.  The story is that they (a nameless bunch) wanted him here, but he had a curse on whoever dared to move his bones or dig his dust and thus, no one ever dared to test the waters.

He isn’t the first in the corner nor the most ornate, but his statue just draws you in.  Above him are medallion stylings to Keats and Shelley, very Roman-esque.  I am very surprised at how minimal the acknowledgement to Keats is, though granted, his life was very short lived.  But his poems are so well regarded for their intense romanticism…hrmm.

Round the area we have Oliver Goldsmith, Robert Southey – which maybe it’s just me but I find it kind of comical he is here as a bust and yet Shelley has only a last name on the wall, perhaps those rumours were true after all – and even Robert Burns has a bust with greater fanfare than Shelley.  Wonder where Byron is in all of this?

Jane Austen has a simple plaque, Thomson is here as well, another Scottish poet.  And there is Byron, well not really.  He’s just a headstone and oh he’s buried in Greece.  That’s interesting.  Especially given Southey’s claims.  Enough of my rambling, I just find it comical a bit the backhanded gestures given through those who were left behind to pay homage to their masters.

The guide is carrying on a great deal about Wordsworth, his life, his memorial.  I don’t see it at all.  I also don’t see Chaucer, which is supposedly the first of anyone to have been buried here in this area.  I’ll be greatly upset if I cannot see his grave.

Oddly, here is a small memorial to Anne of Cleves, Henry’s fifth, no fourth wife.  I think.  Why on earth her grave is here is beyond me, it looks like it is only part of her grave, but there is a gentleman in a coat who seems very determined to not move from his post so I cannot really see.

Turning about a bit to try to take it all in.  Oh there is Handel, other musicians it appears.  Good lord how majestic he is!  This grave is magnificent.  I don’t know that I’ve ever seen his image, I wouldn’t have readily identified him as such, but this statue is amazing.  He stands here, a little robust man with the horn of a trumpet perhaps – instruments are not my thing and Alannah is over by Shakespeare with Glenn, she’s the musician.  He’s a stack of drafts of compositions in his hand, it looks unfinished.  It reads larghetto, which I believe would indicate the speed of the song, what’s that word?  Beat, no tempo?  Wow, my aching brain hasn’t been worked this much in one setting for a long time. Behind  those pages on some type of music stand perhaps, I can see the word “siah” so I think that would be Handel’s Messiah.  There is an image background of an individual playing a harp on the clouds and a gate – gate to heaven perhaps.

And there would be the grave of Charles Dickens, very simple, just his name on the floor here.  So minute an acknowledgement for such an author as he.  While I’m not a big fan, I can at least say I would have thought he’d have a much grander memorial than this.

And here is my dear Kipling, I could read his work the whole day through and still wonder why the hell he would choose to write under Rudyard instead of Joseph.  But he has been a favourite of mine for a great long time.  He too is plain, actually even moreso than that of Dickens.  His looks almost as though someone ran a tub of cement and then etched his name in before it dried.  And considering his work for the nation during the war, I just would have anticipated something much more ornate than this.

Oh let’s see.  Well I could be here all day, as with much of this church, and still never be able to see everything.

Chaucer, there he is.  The wood is as old as time, I believe it is that which he was initially buried in.  His is an odd design, a wooden coffin with a canopy, but the coffin doesn’t extend the length of the canopy, giving about hrmm maybe two foot clearance for someone to stand at the foot of the grave?  I cannot make out the inscription, it is terribly weathered or aged.  Perhaps the climate in here has worsened it, but I can see two crests, coats of arms perhaps, red blocks.  The word domini is clear but the rest, is hard and harder yet being Latin.  At the bottom is something Brigham.  I had thought I had once read that they were not certain where his actual grave was in here, but I’ve forgotten a lot and confused even more.

Above him is a window here and there we see Oscar Wilde.  It is a stained glass window of blues and then brighter reds and yellows near the centre.  There is no clear design to it, but his name on white glass in the top.

Moving to look at the floor more, it is all I can easily see at this point for the crowds.  Dylan Thomas, oh that dear troubled man.  A prime example of those Walesman types you should avoid (for those reading, this is an inside joke that Alannah will get but most of you would not).  But the passion.  The inscription here reads “Time held me green and dying though I sang in my chains like the sea”.  So young a man, 1914 to 1953.  Though he died later than I thought – for some reason I thought it was sooner to the end of the war that he had passed.

Wow, stepping back a bit here, there is no way I could begin to take in all that is in this little corner alone.  It really is a little corner too.  Umm.  All three of the Bronte sisters are here on another wall, just in name only.  And as I look down, once again I find I am treading atop the names of the greats.  Ooo and there is the one name, so simple, so plain – Sir Olivier.  And why is your wife not here at all?  Such a tragedy.  No actress I admire more.

Here too is Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, Lewis Carroll and what a beautifully done inscription tile he has.  “Is all our life then but a dream?” it asks the reader.

 

This as well is not my picture, but I felt it should be shown, the beauty and simplicity in harmony, this type of styling was all about in the flooring in that area.  I suppose perhaps they have not enough room for the number of potential individuals to honour here.

There is so much.  I am overwhelmed.  Even if pictures were permitted I’d never be able to take them all.  As I walk along here, I think this area ahead is the Nave.  I know from sight that this is ohh my head hurts, the scientists.  Fig.  Sir Isaac Newton.  Wow where is my head.  There is a crowd seated in front of it and there are established a number of pulpit looking stands and the entire view is almost obstructed by all the activity.  I am not certain what the service is for, if it is their normal worship services or something else.  I thought the church services were held elsewhere in the complex.  But they are certainly geared up for something here today.  This entire area is cordoned off, no walking down and past.  I’m not sure if this is the norm or just during today.  I think it is temporary, I don’t know though but it is sad.  I believe though that normally you can get closer than this.

Alannah has managed to squeeze through an opening undetected, but I am not certain they really want us back there so I called her back over.  We’ll instead just move on to the cloisters.

I really didn’t realize my recording would be this long when written out, so I’ll do the part three for the abbey in another entry.


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