Yesterday we visited Westminster Abbey. It’s the traditional burial site of British monarchs from Edward the Confessor to the Tudor area, the home of the Coronation Chair in which every British monarch has been crowned for a thousand years, and — predictably — a gathering spot for tourists.
The building itself is a beautiful example of Gothic architecture. Many of its original features, however, have been harmed or destroyed and then restored. Most of the stained glass windows, for example, are replacements. In addition, many of the grave markers, plaques, and other tributes to the dead are scratched and, in some instances, broken. Apparently the schoolboys who served in the choir and in other roles at the church were not worried about scratching a gibe into the back of an ancient chair or breaking off the nose of one of countless cherubs decorating the place.
It’s interesting to see the burial places of such luminaries as Elizabeth I, her half-sister Queen Mary, and Geoffrey Chaucer, among countless others. At a certain point, however, all of the gilt and marble becomes overwhelming and seems more like clutter than anything else.
That’s why my favor part of the Abbey is the only part where they allow photography. It’s the cloister of the original Abbey, where monks once strolled in quiet religious contemplation.
Here there is a bit less clutter, a bit less bustle, a bracing shot of bright green grass after all the gold and cold white marble, and a whiff of cool, rain-washed air. The monastery elements of this lovely old building are, in my view, the most interesting, and the most enduring.