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VISIT TO WESTMINSTER ABBEY.
London, June -, 1840. DEAR “Well," said Captain Manners, as we sat at the breakfast-table this morning, “what will you see today?" Westminster Abbey, I replied. Capital,” rejoined the captain : “I've been to the old Abbey perhaps a thousand and one times; but
you could not have named a place I should like so well to visit this morning. It is a fine old pile, and many a glorious legend is told about it, too; which may or may not be true: I am sure I don't care which, for I always liked a time-honoured fiction better than a dry modern fact."
We walked along through Westminster, and it brought a new joy over my heart when I saw the gray towers of the old Abbey rising above the stately elms of St. James's Park. The sight of the Abbey in the distance, with its deep-stained windows, its pointed turrets and pinnacles, and the thoughts they awaken, is worth a voyage to Europe. Sometimes, you know, the happiness of a lifetime seems crowded into the short space of a few moments; a sudden thrill of delight goes through the heart, which will not be forgotten in long years. “I see,” said my companion, “the flush of excitement on your face," as we stopped to catch a glimpse of the western towers through the trees: “I wish from my heart I was now, like you, approaching the Abbey for the
first time. If you will excuse a little romance, I think there is a striking analogy between the love we feel for the Abbey and for a friend : it loses its freshness when the spring season is gone; but I have never become so familiar with this ancient pile as not to feel when I come here as I feel nowhere else. I must tell you a word about its history.
“The Abbey is said to have been founded by Lucius, the first Christian King of Britain, as a burialplace for himself and his race. During the persecution of the Emperor Dioclesian, it was converted into a temple to Apollo, and the heathen worship of Rome set up. But Sebert, king of the East Saxons, demolished it; declaring, as he threw down its walls, that he would not leave one stone upon another of a temple where heathen gods had been worshipped ; and erected a church to the honour of God and St. Peter in its place. St. Augustine had baptized Sebert and his beautiful Queen Ethelgoda, and consecrated Mellitus (a Roman abbot sent to Britain by Pope Gregory) Bishop of London. Sebert had freely expended his treasures upon the Abbey, and, for those times, raised a gorgeous structure.
“ The night preceding the day appointed for its consecration had thrown its shadows over the city, and its inhabitants were still in profound sleep, all save a fisherman, who was just preparing to cast his net into the Thames, which flows within a stone's throw of the Abbey walls. As he was loosing his boat from the shore, some one called to him from
CONSECRATION OF THE ABBEY.
the opposite side of the river to be ferried across. The fisherman afterward remarked that there was something very peculiar in his voice, or he could not say
that he should have left his net. But he obeyed the summons. He did not know who the stranger could be, but there was something celestial in his appearance ; and the light of his countenance cast a bright sheen upon the flowing water. When the boat touched the western bank the stranger passed up to the Abbey, and the moment he reached it the doors opened of their own accord, and a bright light illumined every part of the building. A company of angels descended from heaven, and flocked around the portal. Music from seraphs' harps floated on the midnight air, and odours more delicious than ever perfumed the earth before. The honest fisherman gazed on the pageant with awe and admiration. Ever and anon, as some sweet strain broke forth from the church, and swelled up to heaven, it was answered by louder and richer strains. The radiance became brighter, and the anthems so glorious that it seemed like the palace of an archangel welcoming the redeemed home to heaven! As the day light broke in the east the next morning, the lights faded, the music slowly died away, and the stranger who had crossed the river in the fisherman's boat was seen ascending to heaven, with the angels at his side.
“Strange reports of what he had seen were circulated by the fisherman through London, and at the
time appointed for the consecration, the white-robed Mellitus, with his ghostly brethren, led the expectant multitude to the church.
“No sooner had the bishop thrown open the doors, than they saw enough to confirm the truth of everything the honest fisherman had said. Frankincense still lingered in the air; twelve splendid tapers were still burning upon as many golden crosses before the altar; the walls were anointed in twelve places with holy oil; and the name of the Trinity in Hebrew was inscribed upon the pavement. Can it be ? Yes,' exclaimed the good bishop; 'Heaven has accepted the offering ; God has blessed us; and St. Peter has been here with his attendant angels to consecrate our temple.'
“Till the time of Edward the Confessor, the first Abbey remained exposed to the sacrilegious fury of the times. At last it fell to decay, and that monarch rebuilt it upon a singular occasion. He had made a vow to the Blessed Virgin during his exile, that if he should ever be restored to the kingdom of his forefathers, he would go on a pilgrimage to the tomb of St. Peter; and being once more firmly seated on his throne, he bethought himself of his vow, and prepared to set out on his pilgrimage. But his subjects gathered round his palace, and besought him not to leave them. They addressed a petition to his holiness the pope, who granted him a dispensation from his vow, on the condition that he should rebuild Westminster Abbey. The offer was joyfully
INTERMENT IN WESTMINSTRR ABBEY.
accepted, and the monarch devoted a full tithe of all his possessions to the pious work. Shortly the Abbey rose from its ruins for the third time, and more beautiful than ever.
“The king was buried in one of the chapels of the Abbey, and his shrine is still to be seen. In the revolutionary days of England, the shrine itself was plundered, but his body has been suffered to rest in peace there to this day. The Abbey is a vast repository of tombs, in which the progress of sculpture can be followed for nearly a thousand years. You can here see traces of the rude Saxon chisel in the early ages, when poetry, just struggling into existence, sought to perpetuate the deeds of the pious upon the enduring marble; and the Gothic architecture in all its stages, from its first efforts to the perfection of florid beauty in the times of Elizabeth. For several centuries none but kings, saints, and the founders of churches were thought worthy to be interred in this house of God. Nobles and chief. tains were satisfied if they could but sleep beneath the shadow of this temple; while the common people did not expect anything better than an interment in unconsecrated ground. In course of time the noble and the learned had the privilege of burial in the Abbey gradually extended to them; but it was considered a mark of the highest distinction to be permitted to rest in so holy a place.
“During the stormy days of Cromwell, few monuments were anywhere erected. It was an age of