…one could have still seen the Pope if you’ve already made your move by now! This was a very exciting occasion for the UK to host Pope Benedict XVI in the recent few days, especially with having to thwart an assassination attempt on Friday. That’s what the Pope-mobile is for, I suppose…
In any case, the BBC have compiled this video montage of highlights of the Pope’s visit to London: www.bbc.co.uk/news
Now, I understand that there’s this little concept out there called “free will” that allows us to believe or not to believe in what we choose, yet religion is a dominant element pervading London regardless of whether a global leader of an organized religion happens to be in the neighborhood. It is further regardless of one’s faith or lack thereof that this element continues to draw and inspire tourists and residents by the millions. Cannot an agnostic or atheist still appreciate the architectural grandeur of Wren’s St. Paul’s Cathedral? The artistic merit of the “Images of St. Paul’s Cathedral in the 21st Century” exhibition presently celebrating the structure’s 300th anniversary? The historical significance of the monarchs coronated and buried in Westminster Abbey?
This is a nation with a long history rooted in church and state being very much the same—Henry VIII, after all, renounced his Catholicism to create the Church of England so that he could divorce Catherine of Aragon and wed Anne Boleyn; thus, the controversy that surrounded Queen Elizabeth I’s ascension to the throne when her legitimacy was called into question. We hear of historical figures like “Bloody Mary” and Guy Fawkes given the rampant persecution of religious dissenters in England, Catholics and Protestants alike. And, quite sadly, this tumult over religious differences persists locally into present day through the not-yet-entirely dormant “Troubles” in nearby Northern Ireland (that entailed decades of IRA bombings in London as well) and the Islamic terrorist bombings here only a few years ago.
But I’d rather not dwell on fear, but revel in beauty instead. The serenity of London’s churches in silence or raised in evensong, the glittering of mosaics or gilded ornamentation, the fluidity carved into stone or the depths welcoming you into the brushstrokes of a painting…all this is a wonder to behold and reminds of what is worth celebrating in humanity; it feeds the soul and lifts it to a sense of Heaven whether you believe in souls and Heaven or not.
St. Paul’s and Westminster are the big ones that most tourists will hit in their few days here, but if you’re relocating to London and will thus have more opportunity to venture about, might I also recommend St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle (where Henry VIII and the present Queen Elizabeth’s parents are interred, along with other historic royalty), Temple Church near the Victoria Embankment (built in the 12th century by the Knights Templar), St. Bartholomew the Great near Smithfields Market (another 12th century church that has appeared in numerous well-known films, including Four Weddings and a Funeral), the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court Palace (Jane Seymour’s organs are buried beneath the altar), and the Chapel of St. Peter and Paul at the Royal Naval College in Greenwich. Outside of London, I recommend Bath Abbey (15th century, standing on the site of the original 8th-century church), Canterbury Cathedral (where Thomas Becket was martyred and the pilgrimage site referenced in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales), and York Minster (housing the largest medieval stained glass window in the country).