Dear Abbey...

Sunday, October 06, 2013 Road Junkies 0 Comments


Finally mostly recovered from the lingering effects of jet lag, we actually got ourselves up early this morning to attend a Sunday morning service at Westminster Abbey (pictured above).  The Sung Matins service (choral morning prayers) was scheduled for 10 a.m., so we opted for an 8:30 departure from the apartment, thinking we'd arrive around 9:00.  We did not.  Trains were not running as often this morning as on weekdays, so we didn't arrive at the church until about 9:15, expecting to see a long line of tourists waiting to enter.

We could not have been more wrong.  Apparently church services do not rank up there with riding the London Eye ferris wheel or going to the local wax museum on tourists' list of things to do.  Only a half dozen people were in line ahead of us as we waited for the cursory bag inspection before entering the nave.  Once inside we were offered the opportunity to sit in the quire or in chairs on the floor in the transepts.

Westminster Abbey Quire
Unfamiliar with quire as an architectural feature and thinking we were being offered a chance to sit (and sing!) in the choir at a primarily choral service, we opted for the chairs.  So did the vast majority of the 200 or so who attended the service.  As it turned out, the choir part was very ably performed by the Westminster Abbey choir.  At this service, the group included both men and the group of 30 or so boys who attend the Westminster Abbey Choir School.  With the young boys singing soprano, this gave a full range of voices.
Located just behind the abbey, Westminster Abbey Choir School (founded in 1560) is an exclusive preparatory boarding school which educates about 30 boys, aged 8–13, who sing in the abbey's choir.  In addition to daily services at Westminster, the choir performs concerts around the world.

Dr. Jane Hedges
After the choral prayers and a couple of "lessons" (i.e., reading of excerpts from the Bible), the Venerable Dr. Jane Hedges, canon steward of Westminster Abbey, delivered an insightful sermon.  Dr. Hedges is considered a candidate to break the "stained glass ceiling" and become a bishop in the Anglican Church.  She was the first female clergy to shake hands with Pope Benedict XVI when he attended a prayer service at Westminster Abbey in 2010. Her role at the abbey involves greeting and accompanying senior members of the royal family at the most high-profile services.  And yet, this approachable minister stood at the door at the end of today's service, greeting and shaking hands with the humblest of tourists as well as a few locals who attended the service.  We were quite impressed.  We shook the hand that has shaken the hand of a pope and a queen.  OK.  Probably Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth would never deign to shake hands with anyone, but at any rate, Dr. Hedges has had close personal contact with the lady herself.

Following the awe-inspiring experience of the service, we had time to wander around the parts of the abbey that were open today.  Founded in the year 960, Westminster Abbey has a long history.  Benedictine monks first came to the site in the middle of the tenth century, and the abbey has been the coronation church for English monarchs since 1066.  It is the final resting place of seventeen monarchs, in addition to many of the nation’s most influential figures, including playwrights, poets, scientists and statesmen.  More than  3,000  people are interred within Westminster Abbey, and markers can be found everywhere from the floor to the walls of the sanctuary.  Reading the epitaphs often reveals much about the deceased—or what the person who ordered the stone thought of the person.

Epitaph of the much admired Thomas Smith
In searching for lunch, we noticed that many restaurants were closed on Sunday, but we found a decent meal at The Feathers pub near New Scotland Yard, whose services we thankfully did not need.  Jeanne resisted the temptation to order a wild boar burger, opting for a tamer chicken dish, and we all left, sustained for the walk to Victoria Station where we caught the bus for a two-hour introductory tour of the city.

Our magic carpet for an overview of the city
Wondering why anyone would choose to sit below, we took our seats on the top level.  After all, we were seeking an overview.  Though it was a bit windy and even cool (temps have lingered in the low 60s), we eventually made our way to the front of the bus in the covered section as other passengers departed.  With beautiful blue skies overhead, the tour was an effective way to gain perspective on this enormous city, though we did question some of the exaggerated tales proffered by the tour guide. 

Trafalgar Square
After wandering into the Japanese festival at Trafalgar Square yesterday with vendors tents and two large concert stages covering almost the entire area, we were quite amazed to observe that all the festival gear had been whisked away and the square was back to its normal function as a gathering place for tourists and locals by the time our bus passed it this afternoon.

The tube returned us to our Holland Park station, and our walk to the apartment took us past the neighborhood Starbucks and Tesco grocery store, where we picked up supplies for dinner.  This is a pattern we often follow as we travel—lunch out and dinner in.  Having lunch in a local restaurant breaks up the day and is usually far more economical than dinner in even the same restaurant would be.

Thanks to the bus ride today, we covered only two and a half miles on foot, but it was certainly enough to prepare us for a good night's rest.

Ms. Magnolia's Manners Tip of the Day: 
"Be quiet and be still during church service, and do not chew gum.  You know your mama taught you better."


Typical of English pubs, one checks the menu and places an order at the bar in The Feathers.
Note St. Paul's dome rivals skyscraper heights
Westminster Abbey choir in the quire, facing the high altar