Since the Royal Wedding is tomorrow, I figured I would relive my own visit to one of the most beautiful and sacred cathedrals I have ever seen. During a study abroad trip to London, I fell into a much deeper love with the art, literature and country of England as a whole. At the end of our study, students were required to write a research paper based on something that moved or interested them during the experience. I chose Westminster Abbey. Below I have chosen some bits and pieces of my paper.
Words do not do it justice. Westminster Abbey is something you must experience for yourself in order to truly understand the magic of this iconic structure of England.
As one of the most recognizable churches in the world, stands England’s Westminster Abbey. Among its charm, exquisite Gothic Architecture and impressive history, Westminster Abbey is a sanctuary. However, the Abbey’s apparent physical features are not only what attract people from all over the world to marvel at its splendor. The stories that lie beyond the church doors are what make Westminster Abbey the myth of England.
The fact that Westminster Abbey serves as the coronation church also makes it a myth of England. Although Westminster is owned directly by the royal family, it can be argued that other churches and cathedrals are capable of holding coronations as well. What makes Westminster so special? The answer sits inside the Abbey, literally.
The coronation throne is perhaps the most recognized throne in all of the United Kingdom. Properly named St. Edward’s Chair as it is located in the Confessor’s Chapel, has been used since the 1300’s to crown all English monarchs with the exception of three who did not have coronations. The Abbey includes other thrones as well. One throne in particular was sat in by Scottish monarchs and held the Stone of Scone also known as the “stone of destiny.” However, what lies beneath the Confessor’s throne is another secret legend that makes Westminster Abbey a sanctuary.
St. Edward’s Chair sits upon what is known as the “Great Pavement.” Secretly hidden under a protective carpet is a series of marble and other precious stones. This circular floor design is meant to represent “the eternal pattern of the universe.” In my opinion, this quote describes the English monarchy perfectly. England will never be without a King or Queen because the coronation pattern works like clockwork without missing a beat. By being anointed with holy oil, they are receiving the power from God to look after a kingdom on Earth.
In terms of architecture, Westminster Abbey was influenced by French Gothic architecture and can be compared to the church of Notre Dame. One of my favorite features of the interior was the cathedral ceilings and stained glass windows. On a sunny day, light filters through the colored windows and illuminates the entire church. It’s as if a sea of rainbows had broken through the wall and flooded every possible open space. Also, in the middle of Henry VII’s Lady Chapel, there is a podium covered by a large mirror that allows people to get a closer look at the beautiful design of the ceiling. What resembles elegant European lace covers the entire domed ceiling of the chapel, further enhancing the drama and beauty of the church’s interior. I believe that the artistry and design correlates with the extensive height of the church. The action of looking upward as far as the eye can see makes a person closer to God. The altitude of the extremely high buttresses and the loftiness of the cathedral ceilings connect a bystander to the heavens, while they are admiring the sanctuary they are in.
Also adding to Westminster Abbey’s reputation as the finest church in England is what is located in the south transept. The Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey is my favorite aspect of the church because it has something that not many other churches have. Part of why Westminster can be called the myth of England is because of its accidental beginning and the fact that many of the greatest literary minds in history rest here. The first poet to be buried in Poet’s Corner was Geoffrey Chaucer, but not for writing the Canterbury Tales. Although an extremely talented poet, Chaucer had been the Clerk of Works in the palace of Westminster, entitling him a place of eternal rest in the Abbey.
Also buried in Poet’s corner are Tennyson, Browning, and Charles Dickens among many others. While some people may stand in front of a Turner painting or Shakespeare’s Birth Window and get emotional, seeing Charles Dickens’ grave was enough to make me shed a tear. In truth, seeing every poet and writer’s grave or memorial in Poet’s Corner would make any English literature buff awestruck. For some reason, sitting next to Charles Dickens’ grave is the myth of England to me. There is an indescribable feeling about being in the presence of one of the greatest literary giants in the history of literature that can only happen at Westminster Abbey.
By maintaining its position of power and high status as the official coronation church, preserving its timeless and classic interior and exterior beauty and keeping its reputation as a sanctuary, Westminster Abbey has earned the right to be called “The church of England.” After all of the obvious attention to Westminster, it can be argued that the church is no longer the myth of England. However, those who feel that way do not know the true history of the Abbey. A clear symbolic representation of religion and beauty in England, Westminster Abbey has secured itself a position in the books of myths and legends for many years to come.
The Duchess of New York