"The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page." St. Augustine
Saturday, June 19, 2010
June 16, 2009 Tears, More Tears, and Even More Tears!
You know that I've been getting teary-eyed almost daily since coming to London. Well today, I flat out cried, not once, but twice!
This morning I stepped into Westminster Abbey, looked up at the beautiful ceilings, the ancient stone walls, and the majestic vaults and tracings, and just started crying. I couldn't help it, and I couldn't stop it. A verger came over to ask me if I was okay. After assuring him that I wasn't crying over the secret guilt of murder or something equally awful, I asked him if people often cry when they come to The Abbey. He said it happens all the time, and they love to see it happen. I felt overwhelmed by the beauty, the incredible feeling of history, and the absolute spirituality of this place. I had to sit down in front of the High Alter for ten minutes or so just to collect myself and stop crying. Later, I found out that the spot where I sat down is the spot where the last 38 monarchs have been crowned and where Diana and the Queen Mother laid in state and had their funerals. It is also the place where Anne of Cleeves was interred. She was the rejected fourth wife of Henry the Eighth; the wife he divorced and then had declared a sister. She's right there, on the side of the alter. It's a good thing I didn't know that at the time. I might have become hysterical!
After I calmed down a little, I paid to go on a tour with a verger. The lady at the counter warned me, "It costs 3 pounds, Madame." That's about 5 dollars. It was worth every tuppence of it! We got to go into Edward the Confessor's private chapel. Did you know that he was declared a saint?!? I didn't. We also got to go all around Queen Elizabeth's tomb or sarcophagus. She was buried in the same tomb as her half sister, Queen Mary, or Bloody Mary. I asked the verger if Elizabeth knew she would be buried with Mary. He said that it was her successor, James the First, who made that decision. James was Elizabeth's second cousin and the son of her arch rival, Mary, Queen of Scots, who Elizabeth had beheaded. Hum..., I wonder how impartial that decision was? "Let's see. Where should I bury the woman who executed my mother...?"
But, Mary did love her sister, Elizabeth. After she became the queen, Mary's advisers urged her to kill Elizabeth because Elizabeth was Protestant and popular while Mary was Catholic and not loved by the people. They called her Bloody Mary for a reason, after all! But, Mary couldn't bring herself to kill her baby sister. Just think how different our history would be today, if Mary hadn't loved Elizabeth!
Just as I was getting caught up in the history, we turned the corner and walked into Poet's Corner. Well, the water works started all over again! There I was looking at memorials to my boyfriend, ol' Shakey and Dickens, Coleridge, Shelley, Keats, and Lord Byron. Everywhere I looked there was a tribute to someone I've studied and tortured kids with. And just when I got my tears under control, I spied this small plaque just to the left of Shakespeare for Jane Austen! More tears! My soul sister! She would be thrilled to be so close to Bill. Imagine the witty, sarcastic conversations they would have!
After so much emotion, I went out into the gardens, which were of course, lovely. Right smack in the middle of London, there is this spacious garden; a little picture of rural England. Well, grand, idealized, rural England. I saw a gardener working on a bed, and I just had to talk to her. We ended up sharing gardening triumphs and tragedies for about 15 minutes. It turns out that the trees I thought were sycamores are actually Plane trees. I've heard about London's Plane trees all my life, but I never realized they are related to sycamores. They look just like our trees but much bigger and healthier.
One of the last things I saw was a memorial to Charles and John Wesley. That surprised me, considering the adversarial relationship between the Wesleys and the Church of England. The verger said, "Well, they're a part of the history." But he didn't seem to want to discuss the matter. Later, I went across the street to the Methodist Center Building. I had a private tour from a very nice man from Yorkshire. He showed me a marble statue of John Wesley and said that it was made to go with his memorial at Westminster. But Wesley gave the church so much trouble, alive and dead, that the Abbey decided it would cause more trouble that it was worth to put his statue up! Wesley would probably be proud of all that fuss.
Finally, I decided to go back to the Abbey for Evensong. As you can imagine, it was beautiful and magnificent; a sea of calm in a frenetic city.
I wonder what tomorrow will bring?
The way the light and shadows interact with these windows in the cloistors is amazing.
Just imagine how many thousands of monks and priests walked these cloisters.
This is the most recent addition to the Abbey. The reliefs are of 10 modern saints including Dietrich Bonhoffer and Martin Luther King.
The grounds of Westminister Abbey are truly immense, even today in the middle of crowded London. It must have been quite an impressive sight to pilgrims 500 or 700 years ago as they approached The Abbey rising up out of the distance on the flat banks of the Thames.