Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Spiritual Museums?

September 6th, 2009 · No Comments

So arriving in London two weeks ago I have dove into a world of museums, churches, and recognizable landmarks (some of these locations encompassing all three of these aspects; ie. Westminster Abbey/St Paul’s ). As I read my other classmates blogs about these locations I was less than inspired though to throw my two-sense into the conversation.  However after visiting the Sikh gurdwara I realized that discussing the architecture or the history of these churches was not what I was interested in.  Rather, my focus was on the spirituality and religious nature of these locations (or lack there of as the case may be).

I’d be crazy not to acknowledge Westmnister Abbey’s incredible architecture– the dedication to style as additions were made to the building, the multitude of famous persons from his or her particular field buried in the ground of the building.  I had the same reeling of awe walking around St. Paul’s Cathedral.  The detailed stained glass windows, the enormous dome, the ceremonial burial sites all over the building—they are images I will remember forever.  However, as I left both of those places I felt more like I was leaving a museum than a church.

Because of this feeling I decided to stay at St. Paul’s for evening song.  It was a beautiful service, but I continuously found myself distracted by the other tourists walking up and down the church looking at all of the graves.  I hoped that I would find myself in a state of spiritual prayer, but only found myself frustrated.  I had a similar reaction when I sat in on Holy Communion at Bath Abbey.  Sitting in another beautiful church, trying to take in and appreciate the holiest of sacraments and all I could focus on was the people going in and out of the attached gift shop.

While also in Bath I decided to wander down random alleys exploring the city.  It was here where I ran into St. John the Evangelist, a Roman Catholic Church.  Being the first Catholic church I had seen since arriving I decided to go in.  Assuming to find myself surrounded by graves and gift shops yet again, I was in disbelief to find myself in one of the most beautiful churches I have ever seen. No gimmicks. No crowds. Beautiful architecture. Amazing stained glass. And peace. I couldn’t even tell you how long I just sat there, engulfed in the church’s beauty and feeling of spirituality.

When I attended St. Patrick’s in SOHO for a service I hoped I would feel the same sense of peace I did in Bath, but was slightly disappointed not to.  I’m not sure why, but I’m hoping as I continue to investigate churches in both London and Norwich I will find a common thread in why I find some churches and temples more spiritual than others.

**I wrote this last night, and I thought it had posted. And now after visiting the Hindu temple I have even more thoughts on this subject, but will expand later. **

Tags: Amanda · Churches and Cathedrals

Worshiping History: Westminster Abbey

August 30th, 2009 · 1 Comment

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

Yesterday, I stood on Charles Darwin’s grave. And no, it was not in a cemetery or science sanctuary, it was in a church. Over 3,000 people are buried at Westminster Abbey. While it is mainly dominated by various royal figures, there are several burials and memorials for literary figures, scientists, and even an unknown soldier. But by far the most shocking person buried there is Charles Darwin. Despite the fact that in many ways his work refutes the teachings of the church, he is still  honored there as an important historical figure. This illustrates the importance of English history to the English, to the point where they would rather honor a historical figure who they disgraced with than have his part of history lost.

As an English major, there was also another part of the church I particularly liked: poet’s corner. There I saw stones for many writers including D. H. Lawrence, Lewis Carroll, and Dylan Thomas. However, I was disappointed to realize that not everyone who had a stone on the ground was really buried there. I later learned that these stones served mainly as memorials to recognize these artists’ efforts. One the bright side, I did stand on Charles Dickens, who is actually buried in the church next to Rudyard Kipling.

All these sanctuaries, memorials, and graves, some with carving or detailed sculptures of the deceased present set me thinking about death rituals. The more we looked at these secularized burial spots , the more they began to resemble the Egyptian burial traditions. My knowledge of their practices is limited, but to my understand the Egyptians bury their dead in elaborate tombs with gold and riches to prepare them for the afterlife. And I looked at the extravagant sculpture of Queen Elizabeth lying about her body I began to wonder what the purpose of this whole thing was. Who was really being honored here? Queen Elizabeth? The artist? The patron or surviving family members? Or even the church itself?

And amongst these thoughts, as I walked the tours, the announcement came on for a moment of prayer, it was 11:00. And out of these thoughts of vain royalty, religious celebrations, or tourist attractions, I was reminded that we were in a place of worship, a house of God. And these people were lying here to be with God and to be remembered. These ornate carving and statues were not meant to honor the person, to prepare them for the afterlife, or even to make Westminster Abbey the tourist attraction that it is today; they were made to honor England’s history. Everyday people visit Westminster Abbey and they worship this country’s history.

To view a slideshow of photos from my time at Westminster Abbey, The National Gallery, and the South Bank please click here.

Tags: Churches and Cathedrals · Megan

St. Martin in the Fields

August 25th, 2009 · No Comments

St. Martin in the Fields is a beautiful church.  It is open, airy, has beautiful guilding, and some of the most interesting windows that I have ever seen in a religious building.  While not actually in a field (as there was some debate about it), it still is in a nice, albeit touristey, location.  The inside of church has every appearance of being a nice, though rather upscale, protestant church, much like the ones built all around New England during the 18th century, which is why I found the contrast to the outside so dramatic.

English churches, especially the more well-known ones, tend to be made of stone and feature either gothic or roman architecture, and the inside usually matches the exterior.  However, when sitting inside St. Martin’s I felt that when I exited the building I would see a wooden, white-washed structure with a steeple, basically a copy of many of the protestant churches that litter New England.  It was almost jarring for me to enter what was outwardly a copy of a Roman Temple (with the addition of a steeple and clock) and instead see a bright room filled with windows. 

It just struck me as another difference between our religious establishments and those of Britain.  England has always done a good job of integrating old and new, and St. Martin in the Fields is a perfect example of that.

Tags: Campbell

The City of London: Ancient Influences and Modern Times

August 23rd, 2009 · 3 Comments

Our Roman Wall tour through the City of London this morning opened my eyes to just how great a stamp the Romans left on not only the British Isles as a whole, but the city of London itself.  Previous to this walk, I had been under the impression that once they pulled out the only things of Italian origin left in the city were those that had been built specifically by the legions in residence.  Perhaps I should have considered that the Romans had been occupying this piece of land for several centuries, much longer than living memory, and so their architecture and culture were all the citizens of Londinium knew.  Of course they would have continued to build in the style to which they were accustomed.  Despite the Norman conquest in 1066, the city’s Roman roots continue to show through.  Several buildings, most notably churches, in the area of Old London are blatently Roman in design.  One goes so far to look remarkably like the Pantheon from the front, despite the steeple rising in the back.  Even Christopher Wren’s memorial to the Great Fire looks remarkably like the Column of Trajan in Rome, complete with internal stairs and a overlook.  And these buildings are not the

left overs of the Roman occupation, but rather creations of the 16th and 17th centuries, and while we no longer see forums or bath houses, we only need to look to realize that the founders of this city are not as distant as we thought.

Tags: Campbell