28 July 2018

Westminster Abbey


July Visit to 
WESTMINSTER ABBEY

On the 20h July the group caught the usual 9.09 train from Edenbridge and headed to Victoria. We made our way along the busy Victoria Street towards Westminster. It was a very warm day and the colourful pavements were packed with tourists as we hurried along in order to have time for a pre tour coffee.
Dean's Yard
We met our guide, Simon, in the Wesley café and then moved onto Dean’s Yard to start the tour.  Simon proved to be an extremely knowledgeable and personable speaker who balanced his information with moments of humour.

We learned that in 960 AD Benedictine monks travelled from Glastonbury, presumably because the festival was a wash out, to the quiet, water surrounded site in Westminster. It was here they established the early Abbey. Edward the Confessor greatly enlarged the building in the 1040s but unfortunately he was too ill to attend the consecration in 1065 and died a few days later. We saw the magnificent tomb of Edward, now a saint, which occupies a central position in the Abbey. It has been ‘must see shrine’ for thousands of pilgrims over the centuries that followed.
The 10 Martyrs

The Gothic Abbey we see today was mainly constructed in the time of Henry III during the 13th century, being consecrated in 1269. A number of chapels have been added over the years and the two towers over the West Door were constructed in 1745. 

This doorway now also displays 10 modern martyrs, including Martin Luther King, in niches above the entrance.

Immaculate lawns between the cloisters
The ceilings, pillars and stained glass windows are truly breath taking and one can only imagine the effect this stunning building has had on ordinary people over the years.We learned that Oliver Cromwell was briefly interred in the Abbey, but on the restoration of Charles II, was exhumed and put on trial for signing Charles I death warrant. He was found guilty and beheaded, his head being put on a spike for several decades until it blew down in a storm. This was the man who greatly advanced our system of parliament today.

We also discovered that the ill feted Mary Queen of Scott is buried in the Abbey not far from Elizabeth I, her old foe. However, her head is higher than that of the Tudor Queen so perhaps she had the last laugh.
Henry the VII and his wife, Elizabeth of York have tombs in a chapel along with the supposed remains of the Princes in the Tower. There was some debate over who was really  responsible for the death of the Princes but Simon agreed with several of us that the culprit was Margaret Beaufort rather than the much maligned Richard III.
Inside the Cloisters

The Abbey has become one of the top tourist sites in London. Scans have proved that over 3,000 bodies have been buried there although currently only ashes are interred and only if you are considered ‘worthy’ .
It isn’t an Abbey at all but a ‘Royal Peculiar’ as, since the dissolution of the monasteries, it is directly responsible to the monarch, with no place for the Archbishop of Canterbury.  All monarchs since William the Conqueror have been crowned there along with many Royal burials and marriages.

We really had our money’s worth with Simon, the tour lasting well over the allotted 2 hours. A few intrepid members then had the stamina to climb the steps to the newly opened Queen’s gallery, which I understand, was really worthwhile. As for the rest, some returned home but a few stalwarts staggered of to the ‘Albert Pub’ famed for its House of Commons Division Bell. 
In our defence we did test ourselves on the tombs and memorials we had seen. Many worthies were remembered but I am sure Elsie Longbottom wasn’t one of them!

An excellent if exhausting day!