Monday, October 20, 2014

London Day 4 - Cathedrals

Somehow in Jenny’s previous trips to London, she hadn’t visited Westminster Abbey so that was our plan for the day. The line into the Abbey wasn’t too long and almost as soon as we stepped inside the transept, a priest asked for a minute of silence as he led a prayer. What neat timing. Then we turned the corner into the Quire and Sanctuary, and I was blown away. We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the Abbey but that was just as well. My camera never could have captured it. (I had to settle for a post card from the gift shop.) Just as amazing as the 100-foot high vaulted ceilings was the realization that every coronation since 1066 had taken place on this site - almost 1000 years of history.

postcard of Westminster Abbey
postcard of Westminster Abbey

Besides the sanctuary, the Abbey held the tombs of seventeen monarchs and many other important British figures. We saw the tomb of Queen Elizabeth I, who was buried with her half-sister Queen Mary I. Their inscription read, “Here rest we two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary, in the hope of one resurrection.” Directly across the Abbey was the tomb of Mary Queen of Scots, who was imprisoned and eventually executed by Elizabeth. When Mary’s son James became king, he made sure that his mother’s tomb was just as extravagant as Elizabeth’s, although his own tomb was relatively simple. (He sounded like a good son.) Not surprisingly, one of Mama’s favorite parts of the Abbey was the Poet’s Corner, which included the tombs of Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Dickens and Robert Browning. I loved the beautiful windows of the Cloisters.

Westminster Abbey

with Mama and Jenny at Westminster Abbey

the Cloisters
the Cloisters

Cloisters window detail

Jenny in the Cloisters

After we left Westminster Abbey, we decided to split up for the afternoon. Both Mary and I had St Paul’s Cathedral on our wish list. Jenny and Mama planned to go to the Museum of London since Jenny had already been to St Paul’s twice. Luckily, they were just a few blocks apart so we rode the bus together. I guess riding one of the red double-decker buses in London is one of those things that everyone has to do once, but the traffic was horrible. And I thought the traffic at home was bad! Oh well, at least it got us out of the rain, which was coming down pretty steadily at that point.
Two miles and 30 minutes later, we finally made it to St Paul’s where we wandered around looking for a tea shop to have lunch. We didn’t find any tea shops but the lovely hostess at the Wine Tun Wine Bar told us that they could put together something for us. We shared pots of tea, three different kinds of sandwiches and sticky toffee pudding (with plenty of clotted cream for Jenny). It was a yummy, modern take on tea.

When Mary and I got to St Paul’s, we headed straight to the stairs to climb the dome. There were 528 steps to the outdoor landing of the Golden Gallery. The first 250 steps were wide and shallow, not too bad. But then it got a little scary. The final steps were steep, spiral iron staircases with narrow catwalks in between. No wonder Jenny didn’t want to do this again! I kept repeating “Don’t look down, don’t look down, don’t look down” but then Mary said, “I looked down...” Well, we were almost at the top by then so there was nothing to do but finish. The view from the gallery was worth every step!

As we descended back down to the sanctuary, we could hear the sound of singing. We quietly made our way to some chairs in front of the altar so we could listen. It was a small choir but their voices filled the whole sanctuary. After the song was over, the minister came out and asked us to say the Lord’s Prayer together, everyone in their own language. It was so moving. I tried to hold back a sniffle but when I looked over at Mary, she was wiping her eyes too. Mary said afterwards that Westminster Abbey was about God coming down to man while St Paul’s was about man lifting up in worship to God. I was so glad I had gotten to see both.

St Paul's Cathedral

Golden Gallery

Mary at St Paul's

view of London from St Paul's Cathedral

That night we were all sad to go. Before the trip, I really didn’t know what to expect of London. It wasn’t one of those places that I knew I would love, the way Florence had been. And with all the craziness at work the last few months, I’d barely had a chance to think about the trip. London turned out to be so much more than I ever expected - the two cathedrals and the Eye, the day at Stonehenge and Bath, the helpfulness and kindness of Londoners (as long as you stayed to the right on the Underground escalators), the long history that was both grand and accessible, even the fickle weather. London was a happy surprise.

photos by Susan Crow, Mary Wagner and Jennifer Mario

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