And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

fredag 22. juli 2011

London Letters - Westminster Abbey

About midwinter King Edward came to Westminster, and had the minster there consecrated, which he had himself built to the honour of God, and St. Peter, and all God's saints. This church-hallowing was on Childermas-day. He died on the eve of twelfth-day; and he was buried on twelfth day in the same minster.
- From the entry for the year 1065 in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

The world-famed Abbey by the westering Thames.
- Westminster Abbey, Matthew Arnold

Here, where England's statesmen lie
- In Westminster Abbey, John Betjeman

Here Edward king,
of Angles lord,
sent his stedfast
soul to Christ.
In the kingdom of God
a holy spirit!
- From the entry for the year 1065 in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

For the past year and the one year ahead I have and will be working on my master's thesis, and since I'm writing about an office dedicated to St. Edward the Confessor I felt obliged to render a visit to Westminster Abbey where he lies buried and where he ordered a large stone church in the mid 1060s. When Edward instigated the construction of a stone church in 1065 he placed it where Benedictine monks had established a monastic community in 960, and not in the seventh century as Ailred of Rievaulx claims to be the case. Edward dedicated the church to St. Peter who was his particular saint, and by whom, according to the first biography of Edward, he had been elected as king of the English when already in his mother's womb.

Nave, choir and transept glorified with light
- Westminster Abbey, Matthew Arnold

The construction of the church we see today began in 1245 and was ordered by Henry III who also rests here. Henry was one of the most important devotees of St. Edward and it is therefore no wonder he decided to build this impressive structure to the shrine of his favourite saint. Westminster Abbey, in other words, has always been the main focal point of the cult of Saint Edward - a relationship masterfully outlined by Paul Binski - and the office I'm working on comes from the Westminster missal. It should therefore not come as a surprise that I felt a strong inclination to visit the church and have a look for myself.

Wherefrom now our choir in his honour
Gladly sings hymns
So his pious merits are remebered
By all forever after.
- The Office to Saint Edward (my translation)

I visited Westminster Abbey after a trip to the National Gallery and I looked forward to enter into a world so closely connected to my dissertation. Very soon, however, I was overwhelmed by how densely packed with tourist the church was, and my enthusiasm waned a little. Naturally, as a frequent visitor to York Minster I was not unaccustomed to churches crowded with tourists, but the space of York Minster is - or at least appears - much wider than the nave of Westminster Abbey, partly, I presume due to the slightly darker stone used inside the Abbey. I discovered, to my disappointment, that it is not possible to visit the shrine of St. Edward since it is closed for the public, and I didn't have the courage or wits to ask the staff for special treatment. Consequently the chief purpose for my visit was never carried out, and, as mentioned in the previous blogpost, nor did my second chief purpose come to a glorious end. I was a little let down by this and I didn't manage to enjoy the spectacular architecture and its decorations to the fullest, not even as a tourist.

As I sauntered through the various spaces of the church room I came across many beautiful details, and I did enjoy the combined giftshop and museum very much. There also is a charming little cafeteria next to the atrium where I bought a very tasty stilton cheese pie and consumed it while gazing idly into the green space outside. However, as much as I like to spend time in my own manner and despite there being much to explore in Westminster Abbey, I nonetheless didn't go about it as meticulously or zealously as the venue deserves. This was mainly due to the disappointments I had encountered, and so I achieved satiety much sooner than I had expected. 

Here the bones of birth have cried--
'Though gods they were, as men they died.'
Here are sands, ignoble things,
Dropt from the ruin'd sides of kings;
Here 's a world of pomp and state,
Buried in dust, once dead by fate.
- On the Tombs in Westminster Abbey, Francis Beaumont

Although Westminster Abbey in many respects is an awe-inspiring church, I didn't manage to summon the same feeling of reverence as I always get when visiting York Minster. This is, of course, partly due to the tourists as explained above, but it is also in part because of the unfortunate condition of the exterior walls. As can be seen in the picture below, there are two colliding types of stone used in the structure, and this gives the venerable Abbey a semblance of having some fascinating skin disease or a leprosy in the making. 


It is evident that I have to return to Westminster Abbey at some point and spend considerably more time there, preferably in the company of friends who can alert me to the things I miss and overlook and with whom I can engage in scholarly discussions. Despite my rather sullen tone in the comments above I was on the whole quite impressed with the Abbey, or at least the distinctly Medieval aspects I encountered. If only I can bribe the staff, I may even pay some respects to the man I write my thesis on. 


Ingen kommentarer:

Legg inn en kommentar