We have been to our fair share of churches, cathedrals, and other religious buidings. Looking up at the incredible painted ceilings and windows at these cathedrals, a visiting American would typically think, “My church doesn’t look like this”. The churches of London have been constructed by world famous architects for hundreds of years. The role of churches in London differs vastly from the purpose of churches in the United States (this we have discussed several times). The main purpose of these churches is rooted moreso in the Brits deep pride and value in their rich history a bit moreso than the prayers and sermons that are uttered in the buildings.
Since my time spent here I have noticed that the Brits care a lot about, and ruthlessly display their long, inspiring history. I believe that these churches (St. Pauls, Westminster Abbey, etc.) serve as living pieces of history for the Brits moreso than places of worship for that reason. Walking through Westminster Abbey almost seems like your at some sort of Rock N’ Roll hall of fame for famous people’s graves. I can’t think of a better way of preserving and glorifying history than walking through a museum of dead guys with significant roles in the history of London. The elegant layouts and statues where the heroes of London stand frozen in time give places like the Abbey almost a museum-type feeling. I especially felt this way on our tours in the Abbey and St. James, where I felt like we were being ushered from exhibit to exhibit. The basement of St. Paul’s was even undergoing work so that they could put an exhibition on display, not unlike a museum.
Of course, these churches do still hold religious ceremonies; I saw a wedding at St. Pauls one of the days we went there, and there was a moment of silent prayer when we were touring Westminster Abbey. Our tour guides explained at several of the sites about how their regular services proceed as well. These religious observations still seem to be playing second fiddle to the awesome, breathtaking history that the churches hold. I am sure that more people attend tours than services on a daily basis at a place like St. Pauls or Westminster Abbey. Along with the Brits’ pride and dedication to their history, these churches serve as spots that honor the unification of London and its people as a whole. Hell, the entire country had a national religion in the Church of England for many, many years. One country, the majority of which were a member of one religion, and the church for which all these buildings were constructed. Our tour guide at St. Pauls explained how during the Blitz, a chaotic period that made the people of London fear for their lives on a day to day basis, that as long as they could see St. Paul’s church everything would be alright. Quite a deep belief on the part of the people of London. A belief reinforced by their nature of being proud of their past and their knowledge of it. So, while these churches and cathedrals might appear to be some kind of religious museum, they remain some of the most well recognized and inspiring aspects of London.
Photos courtesy of: members.virtualtourist.com, lilacnet.net