Stone and marble may be durable, but even these hard surfaces cannot survive what we human beings as a species can survive: time and the touch of millions of hands and lips, touching, revering, eroding, forgetting. Funeral slabs are worn completely smooth, memorials are cracked and decaying, and some are even defaced in damnatio memoriae. We build, but still it is only temporary. Eventually hands and feet rub and erase, and we are only left to puzzle over fragments and faulty stories.
We weren't allowed to take pictures inside Westminster Abbey, and for good reason. People were everywhere in Westminster - crammed up against walls, against wrought iron fences around tombs, against each other, sardine-like on the church floor while the ceiling vaulted ever upwards. Everyone wandered dumbly, audio guide in ear as they stared up dutifully at this landmark, that memorial, with no room for camera angles or composition. And so, being a good tourist, I complied with the rules.
Construction on the current church began in 1245 although there are reports that a church was on the site as early as the 7th century. The entire structure smells of age: that old stone smell with layers of people living and decaying on and below the surface. Memorials, memorials, memorials: on the walls, in the floors, in high vaulted crannies, there are memorials for a diverse slice of people throughout history, from kings and queens, military and religious leaders, and even The Unknown Warrior. A "who's who" list of those interred in Westminster Abbey could fill up multiple pages, but start naming some of the famous British dead and there's a good chance a few of those names will be found in Westminster.
Poets' Corner. I'm a terrible sucker for literature and poetry, and there among the names and busts and tombs, in the middle of tight crowds and low chatter, I cried for the beauty of the expired minds. What love I have for these geniuses and their legacy! I can only hope that one day someone might shed a tear for me in such a way, even if it is only one lonely pilgrim.
Even with my aversion to crowds, it was well worth the visit to Westminster Abbey. If your heartstrings gravitate to history, sacrifice, religion, or poetry, there's something in Westminster that's sure to tug on you. It really is a "can't-miss" even if you just stroll past the great structure on your way to see the Houses of Parliament.
Have you been to Westminster Abbey? If so, what was your favorite part? Did you love the coronation chair? Elizabeth and Mary buried side-by-side despite their hatred for each other? The ancient medieval structures? The quiet courtyard? There's so much to love, let me know your favorite part in the comments!