Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Westminster Abbey and Feelings of Awe

August 26, 2009 · 4 Comments

Today we went on a tour of Westminster Abbey.  I had an idea of what I would be seeing but I had no idea what I would be feeling.  I am not a religious person in any sense of the word; it must have been years since I last stepped into a church.  Yet ever before entering Westminster Abbey I could tell there was something different about this church.  It gave off the appearance of grandeur and made me feel in awe.  Upon entering I knew that this church was different than any I have ever been in before.  Though filled with tourists, I could imagine the Benedictine monks of the past walking silently, in deep thought and prayer.  There was something about that mental image which was very appealing.  Spiritual silence; complete and tranquil.

On top of all this was the sense of being surrounded by great individuals, long gone but not forgotten.  The burial ground of the “Unknown Warrior” was particularly striking.  The story behind it was incredible and the fact that this British soldier was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor is all the more remarkable. Everywhere I turned I saw more and more famous individuals, whether Henry V, Mary Queen of Scots, Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens or Charles Darwin.

With that in mind, I am glad that someones ideas we think challenge religious belief is actually buried in Westminster Abbey.  Charles Darwin’s name has been thrown around to promote this and that and whatever else.  But the fact that this man is buried in one of the greatest churches on the planet is a testament to the human ability to reconcile differences and respect one another, no matter what.  Belief in God is certainly no prerequisite to feel the sense of awe and peace within Westminster Abbey.

Categories: Andrew F

4 responses so far ↓

  •   schaefau // Aug 26th 2009 at 09:06

    Truly, a belief in God is in no way a prerequisite to visiting Westminster. It is a spot that, as you said, inspire awe in even those who don’t belief in a Christian God. I’m having trouble coming to terms with my feelings towards the amount of non-religious ‘celebrities’, if you will, buried or memorialized in the church. Yes, I’m a big fan of Shakespeare, Chaucer, and Darwin. Still, is Westminster Abbey the most appropriate place to tip our hats to their accomplishments? One side of me says no but the other side says yes. I think you try to sort out this issue very well here when you point out the importance of reconciling differences. I’m just not convinced that the church is so much reconciling differences as much as London is putting England’s greats on display in one place in a sort of ‘greatest hits’ style. Anyway, just thought I would throw my two pents in (and a bad pun as well!).

  •   madeleinea // Aug 26th 2009 at 09:31

    Firstly Audrey, I appreciated the pun! 🙂 Secondly, I completely agree with you. I felt little, if not any, spirituality in Westminster Abbey. There was a sense of awe of course; for its grandeur and beauty but to me, it only further soldified my belief that the church concedes to money and power over the more important and valueable things in life. In fact, I felt fascinated by the whole place, almost more like I was visiting a museum than a holy place of worship. I appreciate it for its history, but I can’t help by feel pretty angry at the hypocrisy of its evolution. Like you said, it really was a tribute like England’s “greatest hits”.

    On the bright side I agree with you too Andrew, the unknown soldier was really emotional and moving. That inspired me more than any other lavish, grandiose, gaudy tomb ever could.

  •   apower // Aug 26th 2009 at 12:07

    I would consider myself quite a religious and spiritual person, and so upon entering Westminster Abbey I too felt that sense of awe. However I agree Maddie that I felt that I was visiting a museum more than a holy place of worship. It’s frustrating, and for me a little disappointing that these beautiful places of architecture, places that are typically intended to be somewhere where people can be at peace and can have a conversation with God have turned into a location as touristy as the Tower of London. One cannot deny the beauty of the building, but at the same time I feel it takes away from the purpose. I appreciated that hourly they took a time out for prayer, but sometimes a brief overhead announcement is not enough.

  •   roseam // Aug 26th 2009 at 17:12

    I agree with everything posted in the comments thus far and would like to add that these opinions, for me, were solidified when we went to the evening prayer service. The entire ceremony seemed very perfunctory and scripted. Although I did enjoy it, I felt that the whole thing lacked a certain presence that church services usually provoke. I think a lot of the religious aspects are lost because yes, the abbey is a tourist attraction and many people are visiting for what they can see and not for a service. They merely attend because of what the building represents and holds, which is a rich history.

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