Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Churches in London: Just show me the famous dead people

September 19, 2010 · No Comments

As a firm agnostic, I know I visited all the different religious sites (the churches, the mandir, the mosque, and the synagogue) with different feelings and expectations than many of my colleagues. While I found our visits to the non Judeo-Christian places particularly informative, I felt the same apathy during those visits that I felt at the other places of worship. We’ve been told over and over again that Britain is a secular country and, for me, that works out just fine. Understanding this, it should be no surprise that my two favorite buildings to visit were Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral, locations that I have heard many bemoan as having become too much like tourist attractions rather than churches.

I could have happily wandered about Westminster Abbey a whole day (so long as I could avoid the tourists with the bloody audio guides who were walking about like zombies!), visiting the different tombs and reading all the different plaques and memorials. The sheer amount of history in that building is staggering. Despite my lack of religion, walking around the tomb of Queen Elizabeth I was a profoundly moving, almost spiritual, experience. It was if the gap between the past and the present could be breached by the closeness of that past’s remnants.

Me in front of Westminster Abbey

At St. Paul’s, I didn’t feel the tug of history quite as strongly but I was perhaps even more impressed with the artistic aspects of the building, particularly the interiors. Knowing my own limits (stupid asthma), I decided not to ascend the stairs to see the top and, instead, spent a long time looking at the different gorgeous paintings and mosaics, particularly those adorning the ceiling.

The entrance to St Paul’s.

Something I noticed at both St. Paul’s and Westminster Abbey was the moment of silence/prayer that occurred during our visits. I applaud this attempt to remind visitors where they were but think it fell flat both times, as many tourists (particularly the children) ignored the announcement and continued on their merry way, many obviously still zoned out and intent on their audio guides. I think that the historic houses of worship in England need to make up their minds one way or another: do they want to remain religious buildings or give over entirely to tourism? This indecision has the buildings in an odd sort of limbo- not entirely sacred, but not secular either.

Categories: 2010 Elizabeth · Churches and Cathedrals

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