It has been the setting of coronations for almost a thousand years, of royal weddings and of royal funerals. It is the final resting place for British monarchs, poets, scientists and others. For these reasons and more, London’s Westminster Abbey receives more than one million visitors a year.
No wonder. To resist London’s Westminster Abbey is almost impossible. It was the crisp, festive chiming of the bells that first drew us in. We had gathered, at the Great North Door entrance queue, with others awaiting their turn to view the iconic British landmark. Steadily, the line inched forward until we found ourselves inside. Sunlight poured in through the stained glass windows, illuminating the internal sandstone features.
We captured a few pictures before being offered audio guides to the church. But we handed them back, instead deciding to just go it on our own on the predetermined course roped off near the entry. From this point on, photos were prohibited, so we tucked away our phones.
As we walked toward the nave with the other visitors, our attention turned back toward the stained glass windows, toward the distinctive architectural features, toward the names engraved on the stone tiles below us. The collective body of visitors alternated between briefly inching forward and simply standing still.
Once, when we were stopped, a Westminster guide pointed to the stone near my left foot.
“You’re standing near the burial site of Stephen Hawking,” he shared, and then he continued to point all around us. “And Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin.”
We’d been inside but a few minutes, and I was already becoming overwhelmed. At this point, we chose to break free from the congestion and to make our way past the quire and toward the sacrarium. Nearby, visitors milled around The Poet’s Corner. Charles Dickens, actor Laurence Olivier, Robert Browning, Geoffrey Chaucer, Rudyard Kipling. A truly incredible list of who’s who.
As impressive as all of this was, what awaited us next was even more so. Adjacent to The Poet’s Corner is the entrance to The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries, which just opened in June 2018. Still so new, the stairs leading up to the triforium, or the attic, smelled of freshly cut wood. Located over 50 feet above the abbey, the gallery offers an unparalleled collection of royal possessions, such as Mary II’s coronation chair and the marriage license of Prince William and Kate Middleton, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Additionally, it offers an imposing view of the abbey below.
Those who have the opportunity to visit Westminster Abbey will easily see that the rewards of yielding to the draw of this spectacular site are as immeasurable as the treasures found within.
(Note: Marjorie Appelman is an English, communications and journalism teacher at Mason County High School and co-founder of the travel blog, Tales from the Trip, which is also on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. She can be reached at [email protected].)