Today, as per my new plan to slow down a bit rather than pack as much sight-seeing as I can into one day, I chose one main adventure: my favorite place in all of London.
For those of you out there who aren’t history geeks (but I mean, come on, you should be), Westminster Abbey is a huge, gothic church right next to Elizabeth Tower/Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament and it is one of the most famous places of royalty in the world.
Over a thousand years old, the church has seen the coronation of over 20 English monarchs starting with King Harold Godwinson, whom William the Conqueror defeated in 1066, and has chapels and tombs and memorials galore. Elizabeth I is buried there as are many other monarchs of the past: Henry VII (father of Henry VIII), his wife Elizabeth of York and his wife Margaret, Edward the Confessor, Anne of Cleaves (fourth wife of Henry the VIII who got off easy with a divorce and not a beheading!), Queen Mary (Elizabeth I’s sister), Mary, Queen of Scots, her son, James I and Elizabeth I’s successor, Charles II, Mary II….
But monarchs aren’t the only influential beings buried at Westminster Abbey. It is also a burial site for Charles Darwin, Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens, Robert Browning…. And while coronations and funerals have taken place at Westminster, so have the royal weddings, the most recent being Kate Middleton’s marriage to Prince William.
I could go on and on. Westminster Abbey is a conglomeration of all things English history, a fleeting glimpse into the past.
And walking through a place so incredibly rich that has witnessed so much, walking in the steps of monarchs of centuries past, touching the tombs of that hold the bones of the great kings and queens that have shaped history… I mean, there are no words. There are none.
I started off my morning slowly, sleeping in late then going out to grab tea from the little café/organic food take away spot around the corner from my Airbnb flat. I spent the morning relaxing and writing about yesterday before eating lunch, gathering my things, and setting off for the Tube to get to Westminster. And that morning of relaxing was exactly what I needed after the craziness of the past few days!
Because it’s a holiday weekend, things were insane as I made my way through three different Tube lines (Northern, Piccadilly, and District) to what could be called the heart of London. But I loved the feeling of knowing exactly where I was going.
Last time I was at Westminster, the line was very long and there was no security that I remember. Today, there was a shorter line, but several guards checking bags and waving scanners over everyone. The guard who check me asked where I was from. Interestingly, I was asked this upon entering Westminster the first time, too.
“Arizona,” I told him. “U.S.A.”
He nodded. “Say hi to John McCain for me.” And he waved me on my way.
Pictures are not allowed inside the Abbey, and of all things this is something I am actually pleased that they did. When I take pictures I always obsess over getting the perfect shots and don’t focus quite as much as I should on my surroundings. By forbidding pictures I’m forced to soak in every detail with my mind, to remember them always.
The first time I walked into the Abbey I swear heaven and Earth moved as I stood there at the entrance, looking up at the decorated ceiling, framed by gothic architecture, that was so high up it could have very well been part of the sky.
And yesterday was no different.
As I said before, walking in the steps of generations of royalty, seeing the grandness of the detail, walking on stones engraved with the names of those buried beneath, reading the plaques that memorialize so many influencers of history, approaching the high altar where all the monarchs have been crowned (picture here if you’re interested), walking through the quire…
I didn’t take a single second for granted. I walked around in a happy daze for close to two hours and nearly cried when it was time to go. Before I did, I lit a candle and wrote a prayer request for the prayers that are said twice a day in the Shrine of St. Edward the Confessor.
There are a few sections of the Abbey where pictures are permitted – the outdoor areas and the Chapter House that shows some of the history of the Abbey (plus its future).
Then I took the Tube one stop northwest to Green Park, which I strolled through to look at Buckingham Palace again before heading home.
(By the way – I walked by some political pictures and posters on display by Green Park while walking through it at the end of the day. Just so y’all know, this is what the U.K. and much of the rest of the world thinks of us right now. Embarrassing.)
Overall? It was a perfect, perfect day.
Tomorrow (or today, as I finish this blogpost at 9:30am on Sunday – 1:30am Arizona time) I plan on going to the Tower of London! Last time I was there I only saw the Crown Jewels. Today I plan to explore all of it.
This trip is halfway over now and I just know it’s going to be incredibly painful to leave. London has a piece of my heart which it will keep forever.