Friday, January 16, 2009

Wandering in Westminster

Our entire group went to Westminster Abbey today, a place I'll never forget. Not only was it beautiful to look at, but all the history inside was fascinating. There are countless influential people buried there almost everywhere you look, like Darwin, Handel, Kipling...I didn't want to leave until I found every name I could. A cute old man who works at the Abbey became our unofficial tour guide, and he told us story after story about the burials, memorials, and the cathedral itself. When we reached the burial of Charles Dickens he told us how the author never wanted to be buried there, but after he died the Queen decided that Westminster Abbey was where she wanted him. By then he didn't have much say in the matter, being dead and all, so that's where Dickens is buried. Thomas Hardy had an interesting story as well, being one of the last Englishmen to request that his body be buried in different places. He wanted his ashes in Westminster Abbey, but requested that his heart be buried where he felt all his art was from, in Dorset. After his death, his heart was cut out and his body cremated, with the ashes buried in the Abbey. When they returned to Dorset to bury the heart, they opened the container and found it empty -- and a cat licking its paws under the table. So they hurried and strangled the cat, then buried it. The cute old man told that part very abruptly, and I kind of didn't believe him for a second. But I guess if someone is old, with a fun British accent, and works in a church all day, then he can't be a liar, right? Maybe I'll never know. After listening to stories and looking up at the ceiling as much as our necks would let us, Mary and I decided to head home. That's when we realized that Westminster Abbey is a tricky little place, and yes we managed to get lost in it. We tried all sorts of ways to get out, even following a group of 7-year-olds on a field trip, but we ended up deciding they didn't know where they were going either. I was starting to wonder if the way they convert people is keeping them inside their cathedral long enough that they have no choice, but then we finally saw a beautiful exit sign. I'll feel pretty good when I go a whole day without getting lost.

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