Westminster Abbey

Jan Leeming

Shoreham 2007

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Me looking brave before taking to the air (and the wing) of the plane. Wow, it was cold !! But the whole experience was totally exhilarating.



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Jan's Blog

Computers and the internet are amazing things. One of my concerns with putting together this site was that it could remain current, yet with all my travelling I've often much to say, but little time to say it. Years ago when reading the news it would take me days on end to reply to the kind letters people sent. Now, with the magic of the modern age, I can keep you up to date with what I'm doing and other events in my life.


Date: 23rd March 2012


Why is it that so many of us are familiar with iconic landmarks elsewhere in the world and yet neglect to visit those ‘in our own back yard’.

I’ve never really devoted time to a comprehensive visit to Westminster Abbey – the last time being eleven years ago when we took some Russian visitors. I remember it well because on entering through the West door (now you enter through the North) a man did a sort of dance around me – you know the sort of thing when you go to avoid someone and both move in the same direction. Well I went to pay for the entrance and discovered my purse had been stolen – and in a House of God! Because of their limited knowledge of English, our visit was cursory and I promised myself I’d go back when I had more time.

The Entrance Fee is steep at £16 (reduced for seniors) but it does include the BEST Audio Guide I’ve ever encountered. The commentator is Jeremy Irons and one doesn’t only get the descriptions of the main tombs and places of interest but you are invited from time to time to listen to a more in depth explanation or even to a piece of music by someone like Handel.  Also at each stage when you press the button you get a picture which enables you to ascertain that you are at the correct place.  So often with Audio Guides you get lost as I did monumentally in the Musée de Cluny in Paris.  The numbering was all over the place.  In the end I gave up trying to sort out what was what.  But the Westminster guide could hardly be bettered and to have the wonderful voice of Jeremy Irons was a terrific plus.  I think you will gather that voice is very important to me and Jeremy's is beautifully mellifluous.

I particularly wanted to see the Shrine of Edward the Confessor because Thomas Becket's Shrine at Canterbury was based on the Confessor's.   The Shrine is opened twice a day for a short service of prayer which I attended. The Shrine is magnificent even now when most of the mosaics which adorned it have disappeared. I’m not very good at measuring but I would say that it is about 10 metres in height and at least five in width.  And now I can begin to believe that Henry V111 had 26 cartloads of gold, silver and jewels taken from the Shrine when he ordered it's destruction in 1538 at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries. After all, pilgrims were leaving gifts at Thomas' Shrine for nearly 400 years.

I spent 4 hours wandering round with the Audio Guide and was about to go to the Chapter House when I realised they’d just shut it. I wandered off around the little museum and then a delightful Attendant came and said that I could have a quick look. It is a very attractive hexagonal shape - rather like the one at York Minster and it has some interesting frescoes which somehow escaped the vandalism of the Puritans around 1642. (I attended a training session at Canterbury the other day about the Monks and their way of life. Their day commenced with a meeting in the Chapter House where a chapter of the Rule of St. Benedict would be read out. So it was interesting to see a completely different Chapter House – in fact, by comparison with York and Westminster, ours at Canterbury is rather plain apart from the superb Oak roof)

It was a wonderful afternoon of discovery. You aren’t allowed to take photos in the Abbey – frankly I agree with the rule – nothing would be more irritating or disturbing than to have hundreds of cameras flashing all over the place. However my one criticism is that, having thought I could purchase postcards of many of the memorials and tombs, the selection in the Shop was very poor indeed. There were only about two dozen on offer. I can appreciate that they can’t have a postcard for every tomb in the Abbey but a few more would have been welcome. Having said that, the guide book is one of the less expensive I’ve come across and at £5 represented good value.

I was able to buy a postcard of Edward the Confessor’s Shrine so I will scan it for you. Copyright Dean and Chapter of Westminster 2007.


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