Overheard at Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey’s walls have been standing for centuries, picking up the gossip of lowly peasants, kings, all the cool boyos, and even some art history students. Let us take a journey through time…e cool boyos, and even some art history students. Let us take a journey through time…
Illustration by Grace Han
DECEMBER 12, 1262: Construction of Westminster Abbey has almost finished...or has it?
BANG BANG BANG
JUNE 16, 1305: A day in the life of Father Anselm, the first influencer.
‘Good morning Father Anselm.’
‘Morning Bernard, what do you think of my new sandals?’
‘Um they are lovely Father, very… pious?’
‘Yes indeed Bernard I think the Lord would have liked them. Although he might have preferred brown ones, pink is a bit risqué but I have to do it for the followers.’
The next day, Bernard has a pair of sparkling pink sandals.
APRIL 6, 1337: The Dean of Westminster Abbey is positively glowing; he is so happy after the news he has just received! He has gathered the congregation to share the glorious tidings.
‘My dear fellows, we have received word from the capital. I am pleased to announce that Westminster Abbey is shortlisted for the annual best church in Europe competition! We need to win this Brothers, St Denis has been winning for the past five years and I DO NOT want to have to bear the smirk of their Dean again! We will show those French ~bleeeeeps~ what we Englishmen can do!’
Contrary to popular belief, this is the true reason why the Hundred Years’ War started. Was finally winning the competition worth it? The Dean would say yes, they won a very nice trophy after all.
OCTOBER 30, 1485: Westminster Abbey is in tumult as Henry VII's Coronation is about to start, but something is going horribly wrong...
‘Why is this damn chair so uncomfortable? And what’s with that ridiculous stone? I cannot possibly sit on this atrocity during the entire ceremony. Get me a different one, now!’
‘But, but sire…’
‘What is it Geoffrey, get on with it or I shall have your head before you can say pigeon pie.’
‘Well, the thing is Sire, this is the Coronation Chair, it carries powerful notions of kingship and legitimacy…’
‘What do you know about kingship you peasant?! You know what is truly important? THE ROYAL BUTTOCKS, and the royal buttocks are in agony!’
Unfortunately, Geoffrey proved unable to move the chair, costing him his head. Henry VII’s fate was even more dreadful: his royal buttocks were bright red that evening. Poor Elizabeth of York, she had to put Sudocrem on it.
JANUARY 20, 1652: With stern paces, Anne, Westminster Abbey's cook, marches towards Father Philip. In her hand is an ear, which is attached to the young kitchen boy, Wilfred.
‘Father, this scoundrel has once again stolen my fruitcake! I had been working on it for hours and hours and now it is all in his tummy! This is getting out of hand.’
‘Father, Father, I promise I did not take the cake, I would never steal from God or anyone else I promise!’
‘Wilfred, you say this every time, and yet fruitcakes continue to be embezzled! I will have to take more extreme measures to stop this thievery. I ban you for eating fruitcake for the rest of your LIFE!’
As Anne and Wilfred walk back towards the kitchen, a shadow reveals itself behind one of the benches. It is a fat ginger cat, carrying an entire fruitcake in its mouth.
A few days after MARCH 8, 1796: William Chambers, architect of our beloved Somerset House, is interred in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey. The crowd is in mourning, but the funeral attendees aren't the only ones upset because of his death.
‘Oi! Hey! Watch out, this is my spot!’
‘There is no space for you here dude, the corner is full! It’s crowded as it is already!’
‘Oh no, again the smell of decomposing bodies! Why can’t it smell like eucalyptus in here? Someone get the Yankee Candles please.’
‘I’m sorry guys, I didn’t choose to be put here…’
‘Yeah yeah, I don’t believe that excuse! I bet you asked to be buried here, with all your connections and all!’
‘STOP IT! I am the OG poet here, I’ve been here for 396 years! Please be quiet for once, can’t you leave an old corpse in peace?!’
Poor Chaucer, he had been listening to the others complain for centuries and centuries, never enjoying the moment of rest he was so looking forward to. Maybe we should give him some earplugs for his deathday.
MAY 3, 1896: A rather 'exciting' day in Victorian times.
‘My dear Byron, I must tell you, I saw Lady Anne’s ankles today. They were so shapely, I could barely contain myself!’
Midnight, DECEMBER 24, 1937: Westminster Abbey is deserted: all have gone home to celebrate Christmas.
Suddenly, from the ground and the tombs, numerous white figures emerge. They glisten in the gleam, their transparent cloaks trailing behind them.
A soft murmur arises:
JUNE 30, 1999: The sun is setting and Westminster Abbey is ready to be closed.
A young choirboy scurries away, finally going home. He had to clean the choir stalls as punishment for singing a song that does not quite qualify as a hymn. On his way out, he quietly sings the lyrics: ‘Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! I want you in my room, let’s spend the night together, for now until forever.’
NOVEMBER 27, 2018
Two art historians, after standing in front of the Westminster Retable for two hours.
‘I don’t want to problematise everything, but this is very problematic.’
‘Sure. Can we go to a pub now?’