Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Day Out - the British Museum and Westminster Abbey

A few weeks ago (I've been busy - more on this later!) David and I went out on one of our London adventure days, this time to the British Museum.  The area surrounding the museum is neat, much more posh than our neighbourhood!  Walking from the tube we went along some quite swanky streets and through a very London-looking public park.

We went to the Museum on a Sunday, not ideal from a tourism point of view - everybody else was there too!  But it was still so neat to be at the Museum and take in some of its most famous collections.

To start off, we made straight for the Rosetta Stone.  This felt like a big deal to me because I first learned about the Rosetta Stone from M. Beaudry in Grade 11 Ancient Civilizations class at Malvern Collegiate Institute.  I remember thinking it sounded like the neatest thing, this early discovery of a stone carved with the same text in three languages, that allowed historians to begin to decipher what Egyptian hieroglyphics meant.  I remember being really taken with learning that, and thinking to myself that it would be really neat to see that one day.  Ten years later, here we are.

The stone itself was much bigger than I pictured it (not sure why I thought otherwise!) and also much more finely, precisely carved than I had imagined it would be.  It really was remarkably beautiful.

Here's another example of Egyptian hieroglyphics that we saw - carvings on an enormous basalt sarcophagus.  A Pharaoh had it made as his burial tomb, and then he ended up moving elsewhere by the time he died and was buried.  So, this sarcophagus never got used for the purpose for which it was created, and they ended up (so the curatorial card told me) using it as a bathtub.  That's not macabre, or anything...

Then we saw one of the Easter Island statues brought back from Polynesia.  It is so interesting to be in the museum - I don't know about anybody else, but I could just feel the tension of this vestige of British colonialism.  I knew there was/is a huge controversy over whether certain of these items should really still be here in England (the Elgin Marbles, anybody?) or whether they should be returned to the countries that actually produced them.  What I hadn't known was that this controversy actually raged at the time that these "treasures" were brought to England, and didn't just result from a crisis of conscience many years later.  Right or not, it certainly is remarkable to be able to see these cultural artifacts all together in one place.  I mean, an Easter Island statue - wow!

I'll admit I didn't know that this was famous, but David made sure we went to the section with artifacts from Japan and saw "The Great Wave," a wood block print by Hokusai.

We left the museum and walked a ways to get ourselves to Westminster.

We attended the 3 o'clock Evensong service at Westminster Abbey.

This is a truly incredible service, almost entirely sung by the boys' and men's choir of the Abbey.  Like at St. Paul's Cathedral (but I think even more so at the Abbey), you have the feeling that you are participating in something so longstanding, so imbued with history and import - it's a really powerful feeling.  This is a liturgical situation where I don't feel the need to grind my teeth over non-inclusive or archaic language - it's just so Church of England-ish!  And more power to them.  I'm sure I've never prayed for the Queen, her office, and her family in the context of a worship service before.  In just a few weeks, Prince William and Kate Middleton (oh sorry, we're calling her Catherine now) will be married here.  How cool!

On the way in we quickly spied Henry Purcell's florid tomb, as well as an epitaph in the floor to Benjamin Britten (who I believe is actually buried at Aldeburgh).  Wow, how cool.

That was our day in London - it was a fun one!  Looking forward to many more adventures to come!

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