Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Tower of London

My excitement overwhelmed me, reminding me of my young self being giddy with excitement for Christmas, as we walked up to the Tower of London.  I studied this historic landmark during my time in college as I worked toward a degree in history.  Over the years, I have read numerous stories about the Tower.  The story that always fascinated me the most was of the little boys who disappeared while imprisoned in the Tower by their uncle, King Richard III.  Well, and of course, the beheadings that took place on the Tower grounds. 

The White Tower within the Tower of London
As I listened to the guide, I marveled at the age of the buildings and the stories.  Hundreds of years of history surrounded me.  How does a person capture all of it in a picture or a blog post?  The thought of writing a travel memoir slipped away.  The task too large.  Even sitting here trying to remember, I get overwhelmed by the extent of my experience.  The visit filled me like a dream.  I walked through the grounds, snapping pictures, and listening, but I failed to grasp the reality.  Now the time is gone, never to be captured again.

Our last spot for the guide to speak with us was the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula.  The spot has been a place of worship for over a thousand years.  However, the building isn't that old.  The current building began construction in 1519 with alterations being made throughout the years.  The guide pointed out the burial spots of Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard (the two wives Henry VIII beheaded) next to the alter.  He talked about hundreds of bodies being buried under the floor where we sat in the pews.  Even with all the bodies and violent history, I felt at peace in the chapel and on the grounds.  I agree with the guide when he said we must not judge the past with the same focus that we judge in the present.  Yes, today, beheadings and torture are condemned, but that was the way of life back then.  We can't fully grasp the culture.  I believe that is why there is peace in the chapel.  God has forgiven.

Curtesy of the Internet
Pictures were not allowed in the chapel.

As we left the chapel, I detoured to the side, stopping in front of a wooden down that led to more dead bodies.  Saint Thomas More rested behind the deep brown wood.  I stopped for a moment and read a plaque.  In my emotional state, I don't remember what it said.  The words failed to register.  I prayed.  About five years ago, I went to confession about a situation of being around worldly people who criticized my way of life.  The priest gave me an odd penance.  He told me to watch the movie, A Man for All Seasons, the story of Saint Thomas More.  The lesson for me?  Thomas stood up to Henry VIII in his worldly desire to divorce Catherine of Aragon by leaving the Catholic Church and starting the Anglican Church.  Saint Thomas was beheaded for his convictions.  I must always remain steadfast in my own faith just like Thomas.  I said a prayer for him, thankful for his example to follow.  Overwhelmed at being near his relics.

The Memorial to the Executed moved me much like the chapel.  In roughly the same spot that blood spilled and heads fell into baskets, a statue memorializes the deaths.  A poem is written on the bottom section, which I have to admit I don't remember.  On the top circle in a beautiful light blue, the names of those beheaded was printed around the glass.  I walked around, reading the names and said a prayer for them.  In the middle a glass pillow led my imagination to Anne placing her head down in great fear.  Breathtaking in elegance, I marveled at such a tribute for a harsh time in British history. 

I would be remiss in not mentioning that we did see the Crown Jewels.  Though impressive, my mind returned to the chapel and the monument.  Of course, I delighted in seeing the metal statues of some of the animals that lived at the Tower during the days of the Menagerie.  I kept in mind the woman who stupidly showed off to her friends by putting her arm into the lion's cage.  As lions will do, he had a tasty snack on said arm.  The story reminds me of the things people do at Yellowstone or Glacier Park.  We haven't learned much over the centuries.

As we left the Tower, I was content with my time in London.  Yes, I still had two more days of touring, but the Tower was my true destination.  Someday, I will go into Westminster Abbey, tour the Globe Theatre, see the changing of the guard, look on Buckingham Palace, and visit the museums.  But for this trip, the Tower of London fulfilled the ache in my heart to be near Saint Thomas More and feel the history soak into my skin.

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