November 13, 2013

5 Things Everyone Should Know about Westminster Abbey

Stephen Nichols
5 Things Everyone Should Know about Westminster Abbey


On this episode, we're going to do something a little different. We're going to start a series of three episodes. This week's episode, our first episode, is going to be on Westminster Abbey. Next time together, we're going to look at 5 Things about the Westminster Standards—or, the Westminster Confession. And then, the third week, we're going to look at 5 members of the Westminster Assembly. They called them "divines." So we will look at 5 divines.

But this week, we're going to talk about Westminster Abbey, and we're going to talk about 5 things that everyone needs to know about Westminster Abbey. Of course, we're talking about a beautiful cathedral, and iconic building right in London's downtown, right next to the parliament, and of course, right next to Big Ben.

Let's turn this into a quiz actually. So, here we go, our first question: Who was buried in Westminster Abbey for almost two years? Give up? The answer is Oliver Cromwell. Now if you ever were to visit Westminster Abbey you need to walk all the way to the East Side, all the way to the back. And back there you'll find a stone, right on the bottom of the floor. Now, you don't need to be a detective to know that there is a great story behind that stone. But for now, all we need to know is that Oliver Cromwell was buried in Westminster Abbey for about two years.

Our second question: When did the construction begin on Westminster Abbey—when did they start building it? Now this is a bit of a trick question, and I'll accept two answers. If you said the eleventh century I'll accept that. And you'd be right even if you said the tenth century. Now to understand this we need to see that Westminster Abbey was one of two Monasteries that were built. One was built to the East of the city of London, and that's called St. Paul's. And you know that has the great dome that was designed by Christopher Wren and that's St. Paul's Cathedral. To the West of the city of London they built another monastery and called it the West Monastery, so we call that Westminster.

So there you go. The eleventh century or the tenth century the building was started. It is in fact a work of progress and that leads us to our third question: What was added to Westminster Abbey in the twentieth century? I'll be a little bit more specific, what was added to the West front entrance and it was just completed and unveiled in 1990? Well the answer is the ten martyr statues commemorating the martyrdoms of ten folks—leaders in church history—from the twentieth century.

You know they tell us that there have been more martyrs in the twentieth century than there have been in the previous centuries combined. And those statues remind us of those whose faith meant the ultimate sacrifice. One of the figures on that wall is Dietrich Bonhoeffer. So if you ever get a chance to visit, be sure you look at the West front entrance and see the ten martyr statues.

Ok, our fourth question: Which two very famous scientists, very clearly representing two different worldviews, are buried in Westminster Abbey—and that not too far from each other? Any ideas? Well the answer is Isaac Newton who has a very impressive grave with an orb and sculptures and statues and marble. It's a very impressive tribute to Isaac Newton, the great Christian scientist. And the other is none other than Charles Darwin. He is buried just a few steps away from Isaac Newton, a simple slab there on the floor—"Charles Darwin," who was in fact an Anglican, so that gets him entrance into Westminster Abbey.

Alright, our last question, and this is a short one: Where in the Abbey did the Westminster assembly meet? The answer? The Jerusalem chamber. They might have met at other places, but for the most part, they met in the Jerusalem Chamber.

So, there you have it. Five things everyone should know about Westminster Abbey. When we get together in the next two weeks we're going to talk about what great things happened there in the 1640's.