Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

War and Peace

August 26, 2009 · No Comments


The Tympanum

It’s amazing how much our group has accomplished within one week, and how much we manage to pack into each day. Today was no different in that respect. We walked down towards Westminster Abbey from Trafalgar Square at 9am. When Westminster came into view, I found myself staring up at one of the most beautiful Gothic churches I have ever seen. Everything from the tympanum (recessed triangular space over a door between the lintel and the arch) to the immense flying buttresses to the highest nave in Great Britain was elegant and stately. We met our tour guide, John, and he immediately began to educate us on the Abbey’s impressive history. Westminster Abbey, or the Collegiate Church of St. Peter in Westminster, was first built in 1042 during the reign of Edward the Confessor. The Abbey in existence today was built around 1216 during the reign of King Henry III. Henry wanted a place where he could be buried, where his ancestors could be crowned and a place dedicated to the piety of Edward the Confessor.

            Westminster is the final resting place of over three thousand people, from Queen “Bloody Mary” to Charles Darwin. However, among the many Kings and Queens the grave that I admired most belonged to the  Unknown Warrior. The man who lies in that grave gave his life for England and that spot has come to be the place of mourning for all who lost someone during World War I. The Unknown Warrior was retrieved from a battlefield in Northern France and was placed in the Abbey in 1920. He was posthumously awarded both the Victoria Cross and the Congressional Medal of Honor. Unlike the other graves that lie under the stones of Westminster, no one is allowed to walk over the grave of the Unknown Warrior. Coming from a family with a strong military background, I have a great deal of respect for all that serve in the armed forces and give their lives to protect their country. The treatment of the Unknown Warrior tells me that I share this trait with the people of Britain. Walking through the nave and the individual chapels is like stepping back into time. The graves of the House of Tudor were especially impressive. The Henry VII chapel’s contains the largest collection of Tudor statues and is also the mother church of the distinguished Order of the Bath. The united roses of Lancaster and York were also prominently featured in this section. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Westminster and I would definitely like to go back for an Evensong service to hear the choir.



View from the bathing hut at the Miami Beach Surf Club (1946)

            After a comical lunch at an Italian restaurant, a few of us went to the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms. I was really looking forward to this site because I love World War II military history and Churchill has always been such a mythic figure in my mind that I wanted to learn more about his life. First of all, I now understand why he often went to the rooftops to watch the German planes bomb the city… I couldn’t stand being cooped up underground for such a long time. I think I would go mad if I couldn’t see the sky or feel fresh air on my face. The Museum was a combination of a tour of the underground bunker and an exhibit on the life of Sir Winston Churchill. I leaned some more intimate details about the man behind the cigar. For example, he loved his velvet ‘romper’ suits, the pet name he used for his wife Clementine was ‘Kat,’ and he always took an afternoon nap at 6pm. The one piece of information that really caught me by surprise was Churchill’s love of painting. He said that painting helped him through his bouts of depression, what he called his “black dogs” or “brown days.” His work is mostly landscape and is reminiscent of early modern painters, like Cezanne. I never would have guessed that this wartime PM and “bulldog” would have such a hobby…Shame on me for jumping to conclusions. He often painted while he was abroad in between his scheduled meetings. I can understand why Churchill is idolized in British history, his strong personality and leadership helped boost morale amongst soldiers on the battlefields and citizens on the home front. Undoubtedly, the resilience and determination of the people living through the Blitz was Britain’s “finest hour.”           


Today was full of new experiences for me. Walking through Westminster Abbey took me through thousands of years of history and power, and the Cabinet War Rooms reminded me of the importance of a strong leader in troubled times. London constantly reminds us of Britain’s strong military history in its public squares, monuments and churches. Throughout the city ‘War’ and ‘Peace’ coexist. The Unknown Warrior has found peace for an entire nation within the walls of the Abbey and Churchill’s annex can remain frozen in time as a reminder of the cost of war.

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