St Mary's Undercroft Chapel Westminster

A few years ago in mid August Brian and I found our selves with a significant few days off from work.  What shall we do ?  The ideas ranged from diving, which we had done far too much of frankly, to Acadia National Park,  to Europe.   We had never been to Europe.   While we  had traveled down under and to the Caribbean frequently, we had never jumped the pond to see where it all really began.  Enter "the travel agent" Brian, remember this is the man with the plan, his German heritage shines when he is problem solving, focused, determined, unrelenting, list maker that he is.   The tireless work paid off and he came up with a very affordable trip to London.  Ah ! London, cherrio old chap.  We have loved the history of the Tudors, we are extremely fond of medieval architecture, and for our first trip to Europe it was a country without a language barrier (motto: start small).

We still look back so fondly on our time in London, our hotel adjacent to Hyde Park and the tube stop made travel throughout the city effortless.  We made several trips outside of the city to see Hever Castle, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, and Hampton Court Palace with its magnificent history and gardens.   We even managed a day trip to the walled city of Canterbury, famed for Chaucer's tales and the magnificent cathedral.

The event we still look back on with shock and awe occurred during our tour of Parliament.  The structure itself is easily recognisable throughout the world, with  the iconic clock tower  Beg Ben , and the gothic Victoria's tower standing tall above the city skyline.  We could not believe our luck,  the public was allowed to tour the house of lords and the house of commons, to walk within the intimate spaces used by this countries government.  We had been to Washington D.C. post 9/11 and remember vividly that we were corralled in the center of the rotunda of the capital building and only allowed ten minutes to look around before we were escorted out of the building.  No visits allowed to the house or senate, absolutely NO tours of the White House.  We were in heaven ! here in London.
The tour culminated in Westminster Hall, a vast medieval building dating back to 1097, one of the two surviving structures of the long lost Westminster Palace that was destroyed in a fire in  1512.  The other surviving structure was St. Mary's Undercroft Chapel.  The tour guide had brushed over this place lightly while we were seated in the house of commons.   We were told that the chapel, that was directly beneath us, was not open to the public, EVER.   The chapel  was used by MP's and their families only,  for weddings, funerals, and baptisms.  This is the same chapel where Baroness Margaret Thatcher lay in state last April.

As we enjoyed our look about the great hall, taking in the massive history, this is the room where Sir William Wallace (1305)  and Sir Thomas More  (1535) were condemned to death.  It is said that some sort of tennis ball was found lodged behind a roof rafter and is believed to have belonged to Henry VIII, who was known to hit balls against the vast walls for practice.  Imagine, standing in a space where so much of history occurred, it was thrilling.

The best, however was yet to come.  Standing on the stairs gazing at the enormous stained glass window at the head of the hall a friendly security guard said hello.  We began to discuss our trip to London, were we enjoying the city ?    He told us he had worked in this building for 20 years,  and was nearing retirement, a generally friendly man.  Without any enquiry by us he asked if we would like to see the crypt chapel.   We looked at each other stunned, did he mean the undercroft chapel ?  St Mary's Undercroft Chapel ?  Well yes he did, and by the way, he had the key.  So silently we followed as he took us to this gate.

Now we were in shock and frankly speechless, he led us into the chapel down a dark staircase, we were so amazed at our luck that we were reluctant to snap any photos of the space.  We were allowed to spend a good 20 minutes taking in all the ancient carvings and vivid frescoes.  We were shone the baptismal font where so many nobles and MP's families have christened their children.  It was hard to contain our glee !!  After the showing we thanked him profusely and slowly walked out of the hall into the light of day.  Our walk back to the hotel was one of silence, we were both trying to take in the significance of seeing a space reserved for the eyes of so few, and seen by so many from the distant past.   Little does this friendly security guard know that his small kindness that day was the highlight of our trip to London


This link has photos of the chapel compliments of the  UK Parliament

1 comment

  1. Transepts, cloisters and arches, Oh MY!!!I am glad you enjoyed London. I have been twice and absolutely cannot understand why people do not like living there. I meet expats here in China from the UK and are glad to be gone. St. Mary's Undercroft Chapel, you are one lucky girl.


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