The Magna Carta, Winston Churchill and Evensong at the Abbey

Today’s journey was as varied as it gets on the Gutenberg Trail. We started the day at The British Library’s Treasure Room, a space appropriately named, as it contains a circa 1455 Gutenberg Bible (the first we’ve seen on this journey); one of only four existing copies of the 1215 Magna Carta; and original musical scores by Handel (including The Messiah), Mozart, Bach, and others. There are illuminated manuscripts predating moveable type, and many early maps. I love seeing the historical pieces, but I have to admit that seeing the handwritten lyrics to Yesterday and Hard Day’s Night by Paul McCartney and John Lennon, respectively, gave me chills.

This is a view of the modernistic British Library from above.

After lunch we toured the bunker Winston Churchill and numerous officers, typists, radio operators and others called home for nearly four years. Known as the Churchill War Rooms, this basement bunker was the Prime Minister’s command post during WWII. When the war ended in 1945, the government locked the door and left the desks, maps, chairs, and everything else intact. The bunker, across from Westminster Abbey, has reopened as a museum. Many Churchill artifacts, including the flag that covered his coffin, are in a large multimedia room that was dedicated in 2005 by Queen Elizabeth.

Lifelike mannequins recreate life in the bunker from which Churchill ran the war.

Speaking of Westminster Abbey, several students wanted to tour the 800-year-old wedding and burial site of British royalty. We were too late for the final tour of the day, but an Evensong service was just beginning when we arrived at 3 p.m. Most of us decided on the spot to attend, and we sat quietly in the majestic center hall of the cathedral as a minister read scripture and a choir sang heavenly sounding hymns. The congregation joined in on the final hymn, and then exited the grand building into the London dusk, which around here comes about 4 p.m. Below are two shots, one of the front of the Abbey with a Christmas tree still standing, and the other from the Abbey looking toward the Thames River with Big Ben and the London Eye.



On the way back to our hotel, Emily Ice and I dropped in on St. Martin-in the Fields, an Anglican Church in Trafalgar Square that dates to 1724. Much to our surprise, we discovered the church has a thriving restaurant in the crypt. Really. There are three hundred year old bones buried down there near the tables occupied by people eating chicken sandwiches. The church has been a favorite site for concerts for many years, and a performance of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” was being performed in the sanctuary tonight. I had wanted to say hello to the church’s vicar, the Rev. Dr. Samuel Wells, who spent several years as the Dean of the Chapel at Duke University. Alas, Sam wasn’t in. At least we found a groovy crypt where we can grab a bite to eat.

-A. Hatcher

The sanctuary of St. Martin-in-the-Fields.


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