Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

All Around Westminster

August 26, 2009 · 2 Comments

I am constantly finding myself in awe of something new in or about London.  This morning’s subject of choice; statues.  London has more statues than any other city I’ve ever been in, and I’ve visited my fair share.  It’s not just the free-standing statues of Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, Winston Churchill, or General Montgomery that I saw just this morning, but also the finely-carved monuments and memorials to the Women of World War II, the Guard’s Memorial, and the Cenotaph.  However, the greatest haven to carving in the British Isles I’ve encountered yet is Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey is stuffed to the gills with statues and monuments to famous dead Britons.  Sure, it’s kind of neat to see and praise the wonders of gravity at Sir Isaac Newton’s monstrous memorial, but is it really necessary for him to have such a large grave in a church full of other important people?  On the flip-side to Newton’s tomb, Charles Dickens was buried in a very simple plot of ground… erm, church floor… that only recorded his name, date of birth, and date of death.  Plain and simple, but did he really have any good reason for being buried in Westminster Abbey other than being a famous author?  I was confused as to why these people, albeit extremely important in their own rights, would be buried in a place where they would have little-to-no affiliation with the Kings, Queens, and other nobles interred or no real connection to the Anglican faith.  On that note, I also couldn’t help but wonder if any of the people buried at Westminster before the formation of the Church of England would be appalled to know their permanent resting place changed faiths on them!  (Random thought, I know.)

After leaving Westminster, a group of us decided to go explore St James’s Park.  As this was my first London park, I don’t have very much to compare it to.  There were people everywhere posing for pictures, feeding the birds, chattering on in their native languages, and relaxing on park benches.  The thing that struck me most about St James’s Park was the landscaping of gorgeous, brightly coloured flowers.  They were so well tended-to and made the experience of strolling along extremely pleasant!  There were also ponds with numerous types of water fowl and educational signs that showed pictures of what animals are indigenous of the area.  However, due to the close proximity of Buckingham Palace and the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Walk located in the area, St James’s Park is definitely a bustling tourist attraction. 

Flowers from St James's Park

Flowers from St James's Park

Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Walk

Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Walk

Just off of St James’s Park is the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms.   I am a big fan of the history of Britain during World War II and the Blitz, so I was really looking forward to climbing into the depths of Churchill and the Cabinet’s own bunker.  Thankfully, I was not disappointed!  There was something very surreal about walking through the rooms with the provided audio guide and standing just feet away from where some of the most influential and comforting speeches of WWII were made by Winston Churchill. 

However, the entire experience was not all sunshine and daisies.  I had a big issue with the part of the bunker devoted to the Churchill Museum.  Churchill was not a saint, please do not make him out to be one.  There was little-to-no information provided on Churchill’s faults throughout the entire museum.  I like Churchill as a historical figure and find much of what he accomplished in his various offices simply incredible, but he screwed up on more than one occasion.  I was particularly frustrated with the portrayal of Churchill during the Dardanelles campaign during World War I.  Churchill was the First Lord of the British Admiralty and in an attempt to “bring an end to the war quickly,” he sent Anzacs into battle poorly equipped and with incorrect maps.  Although Churchill did resign in the aftermath, the museum would lead you to believe that the entire catastrophe that led to the loss of so many Anzac lives was not at all Churchill’s fault.  (I also would have liked any information on Churchill’s relations with Ireland at the time of the Blitz, but alas, apparently it was not deemed as important.)

My day went from a fascination with statues in Westminster Abbey to walking in a building encased with steel and concrete.  Although these things seem to be quite different on the surface, there is something that connects them; Churchill.  They were Winston Churchill’s War Rooms and the Abbey bears a plaque commemorating Churchill.  There is more than just this surface comparison, though.  In times of great need, people turned to Churchill and to their church for reassurance.

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2 responses so far ↓

  •   roseam // Aug 26th 2009 at 18:09

    I was just as surprised by the variety among the types of graves and monuments in the abbey. Like you, I didn’t quite understand why some people chose such simple headstones while others prefer to create the most elaborate masterpiece. Was it a matter of personality? Perhaps money? And if one wonders why people such as Dickens (with no affiliation with the monarchy) were buried there, one might also wonder why the kings and queens are there as well. Did they have much to do with the monks and nuns that originally inhabited Westminster Abbey? I might simply be uninformed, but I cannot see how that would be so. At this point in time, it’s absolutely a matter of tradition, but I don’t quite see the connection between the monarchy and this particular cathedral and how it began. Why this particular church? Why are these famous people not buried at St. Paul’s instead, or any other abbey in England? I do want to research further and see if there’s a connection.

  •   finkelsm // Aug 26th 2009 at 18:37

    I think that one of the reasons that the Abbey was chosen is the cyclical nature of history. The monarchs are all crowned in an elaborate celebration there and then later buried in another elaborate ceremony in the same location. It allows for closure and adds legitimacy all at the same time. I also think that Dickens (and others) have every right to be in the Abbey due to their contributions to the country. The monarchy may be the focal point of Westminster and its visitors, but the other inhabitants round out British history with their input on music, art, literature, and politics.

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