RETRO POST: On the Shoulders of Giants

I am on an Internet Vacation this week. I promised one old post and one new post each day while I was on vacation. This is the seventh (and final) of my old posts. It was originally posted back on July 18, 2007. I brought this one back because my visit to Westminster Abbey in the summer of 2007 is worth bringing back. I’ll be back from my Internet Vacation tomorrow.

Today I visited Westminster Abbey. I walked there from the hotel, crossing the Green Park, passing by Buckingham Palace, and along St. James Park until I reached the Abbey. Those of you that have seen it know that you can’t miss it. You are not allowed to take pictures inside, but I did take some pictures from outside.

It cost 10 pounds to go into Westminster Abbey and it was worth every penny. Of course, there is the architecture itself, and saying that it is impressive is mere understatement. But the real value for me was the history of the place. It is a very old place, dating back as far as 1245 in its present form. It is large and drafty inside. You can feel the ghosts of the past brushing by you. It is quiet, but not silent, merely respectfully low. There is a kind of path that you follow through the Abbey. I saw the graves (or tombs) of Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots.

Then, coming down some steps I most unexpectedly came across the tomb of Henry V, or as he was referred to in Shakespeare’s play, “Harry the King”. Seeing his tomb there in front of me really gave me the chills. This was the man who led the small English army to victory of the French at the Battle of Agincourt!

I wandered about some more, looking at the graves of people who had been dead for 700 years or more. I finally wandered into the Nave of the Abbey and when I made it toward the left-center, I came to a sudden stop. There, directly in front of me, was the grave of Sir Isaac Newton, perhaps the greatest scientist to have ever lived. I was sort of frozen there, and could feel tears welling in my eyes. I fought it back until I started to notice the names of the other people buried in close proximity to this giant: over there to my left was Charles Darwin; and just next to him, James Clerk-Maxwell; and William Herschel; and Michael Faraday. I was literally surrounded by some of the greatest scientists of all time, so great that they were buried among kings. It was incredibly moving.

Later, I found the grave of John Harrison, as well as a memorial to none other than Franklin Roosevelt.

On my way out, toward the front-center of the Nave, I came across the Grave of the Unknown Warrior, the inscription on which read:

Beneath this stone rests the body
Of a British warrior
Unknown by name or rank
Brought from France to lie among
The most illustrious of the land
And buried here on Armistice Day
11 Nov: 1920, in the presence of
His Majesty King George V
His ministers of state
The chiefs of his forces
And a vast concourse of the nation
Thus are commemorated the many
Multitudes who during the Great
War of 1914 – 1918 gave the most that
Man can give life itself
For God
For King and country
For loved ones home and Empire
For the sacred cause of justice and
The freedom of the world
They buried him among the kings
Because he
Had done good toward God and
His house

Westminster Abbey was perhaps the most emotionally moving place I’ve been to on this entire vacation. It reminds you of how small you are, both physically, within the enormous structure, as well as among the great minds whose shoulders we stand upon to this very day. And yet at the same time, it reminds you of how great you can become. London is filled with history, but I have a feeling that there is more history packed into Westminster Abbey than the rest of London combined.


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