After touring Westminster Abbey it became clear to me that the Abbey is more of a symbol of the English people than a symbol of God or Christianity. In April the interior of Westminster Abbey was viewed by over two billion people as they tuned into the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. Seeing in real life what I had previously seen on television and walking on the same ground I had watched a royal wedding take place kept the Abbey in touch with current times. Ancient tombs are interesting, but seeing the alter where Will and Kate were pronounced man and wife filled me with awe for the beauty of love and marriage. I am one among a nation and even world of people who fully support the relationship between these two people, which is also something awe-inspiring. The Will and Kate flags, plates, and mugs sold to tourists and locals alike on many London streets illustrate the way this marriage has united the nation of Great Britian and become a source of national pride.
Interest in Westminster Abbey has increased since the wedding, but it has always been one of London’s main tourist attractions. Visitors from all over the world mill silently about the church listening to the tours recorded on cell-phone looking devices. The interest is not solely in the glory of the church as a place of worship, but predominantly as the final resting place of many renowned English people. Tombs and memorials within the Abbey include well known Kings and Queens like Edward the Confessor, Henry II, Mary Queen of Scots, and Anne of Cleaves. Many poets, playwrights and scientists are also buried or honored in the church.
Burials include Oliver Cromwell, Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Robert Browning, Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, and Alfred Tennyson. Memorials are made to many great Poets and Playwrights in Poets Corner such as Shakespeare, Lewis Carroll, George Eliot, T.S. Eliot, D.H. Lawrence, Lord Byron, Jane Austen, The Bronte Sisters, John Keats, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The desire of the British people to bury and commemorate their favorite literary figureheads among Kings and Queens shows that English culture is both a culture of history and words. In fact, writers such as Geofrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens are well known for writing about the lives of common English people.
The Abbey is also engrained into British culture because it has survived so much of Britian’s past. The interior appearance of the church serves as a symbol of English life. The dome of the Abbey was destroyed in the great bombing of World War II and has since been rebuilt. It is one of many scars England wears proudly, uniting the people of the country with their past. The walls of the church are covered with a thick layer or black grime from the infamous London pollution. The rock floors have been worn smooth and shallow bowls have been dug into stone steps by millions of visitors over hundreds of years.
More interestingly, fingers in stony prayer have been broken off from many of the statues. One of the guardians of the Abbey, marked by their red robes, explained the vandalism to me. For one reason or another, people used to throw things during coronations. Westminster Abbey has hosted many coronations, so statues were damaged from years of this behavior. A more malign explanation for the missing digits happened during the Protestant Reformation. During this time of religious controversy, Catholics would sneak into the Abbey at night and deface the tombs by breaking off fragile bits like fingers and limbs. This vandalism was a sort of bullying and seems a bit childish. Nevertheless, fingers frozen in prayer are still missing from some of the tombs and serve as a constant reminder of Britain’s internal unrest during this time. Westminster Abbey’s presence through celebration, war, and controversy reflects the union the people of Great Britain have with their history and ancient culture.
Westminster Abbey’s website: http://www.westminster-abbey.org/