Westminster Abbey

Originally posted on Blogger on 27 February 2015

On Wednesday (25 February), I went to Westminster Abbey with my Reformation class. For someone who has been in many churches in Italy, it was interesting to go into a church and look at it through a historical perspective, observing the aspects that make it a combination of Catholic and Anglican (English Protestant), as well as the coronation place of kings and queens since William the Conqueror in 1066.

Westminster Abbey was rebuilt in the 11th century by Edward the Confessor as a Catholic church and a place for him to be buried. It was converted into an Anglican church in the 16th century when Henry VIII broke with Rome so he could divorce Katherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn. Several kings and queens have been buried in tombs placed here and marble plaques line the walls and floor, marking the burial places of high status individuals.

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The main entrance

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The outside of the Henry VII Chapel, built according to the Will of Henry VII on the orders of his son, Henry VIII. Henry VII, his queen, Elizabeth of York and his granddaughters Mary I and Elizabeth I are buried inside

As someone whose love of British history started with Elizabeth I who is buried here, one of the things I was hoping to see was her tomb. When I saw it, I kept silent, but inside I was so happy. The only thing that angers me is that she shares the monument with her elder half-sister, Mary. In life, having those two in a room together would’ve been a recipe for disaster. Mary never forgave Elizabeth for being the daughter of the woman who supplanted her mother.

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Got a photo of the inside before a priest noticed

I also saw the tombs of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. Along with Henry VII killing Richard III on the battlefield at Bosworth, their marriage ended the Wars of the Roses between the two royal houses: the House of York and the House of Lancaster. I also saw a brass plague commemorating the life of Anne Neville, wife of Richard III and daughter of Richard Neville, known as “the Kingmaker”, and the tomb of Henry V.

Walking around the Abbey was in interesting experience for me. I found myself scanning the names on the tombs as I walked by, looking for names I recognized from my readings of English history. It made me realize how many names from Britain’s history I know. I knew them, but seeing the names in one place, and having that one place be Westminster Abbey, I realized how influential these people must’ve been.

Then we walked through the cloisters.

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There was this presence that was there when I was walking through Westminster. I was trying to focus on what was around me, on what my professor was saying about the tombs we passed and the architecture since we were looking at how Henry VIII turned nearly all the Catholic churches in England into Anglican ones. I did recognize the presence though, which is something I found interesting because I’m not a religious individual. Churches do interest me though, because by looking at the churches of a particular country, there are hints in the architecture of the buildings where you can tell what kind of church it is. The historical aspect of churches is what interests me. The presence I felt walking through I think came from the fact I have been reading about the people whose graves I saw since I was in middle school. I’ve seen photos of the graves, but there’s something about standing next to the tombs, that gives something different than looking at a photo.

There have been churches I’ve walked into and I’ve creeped me out so much that I turn around and walk out. With Westminster, there were dark areas, but so much of the church is beautiful, that it makes up for the darkness. Some people might chalk that up to the fact it used to be a Catholic church, but from personal experience I know there are plenty of Catholic churches that are dark and creepy and the only light comes from the main door when one enters the building, and any candles that have been lit inside.

The thing about Westminster Abbey is there it has been both a Catholic church and an Anglican church. The two are meshed together and there isn’t a distinct line where one can say part is Catholic and the other is Anglican. The two styles have been combined, and I think it was a success. Making a grand building into something that is no longer of the religion it was intended for, but it’s still a grand place with a wonderful amount of history inside it for one to explore.

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