Friday was cold and rainy, but we managed a walk through Green Park to Westminster Abbey, in all of its Perpendicular Gothic glory.
We paid our fees and entered through the north transept. Crowds milled. The church is indeed a national monument, a witness to history, to England’s journey through time to the present, to England’s conversation with God.
We stepped into the choir, with its gilded stalls, the seatbacks shooting like ornate spires, the red mini lamps with their tiny shades. I looked up to the soaring vaults, then to the High Altar, its retable rich with story. We walked around the ambulatory, behind Saint Edward’s tomb (Edward the Confessor of the eleventh century who built the abbey), which is no longer accessible, past the stunning Henry VII Lady Chapel, the ancient coronation chair, and on to Poets’ Corner in the south transept.
We moved determinedly through the groups that seemed to form solid units of humanity, but parted willingly so that the two of us could make our way. We stood on the plaques, the graves of the great, reading epitaphs, and found T. S. Eliot, “the communication of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living,” from Four Quartets. This will be one of the chapter epigraphs in my third novel, Inheritance.
St. Faith’s Chapel was open off the southern wall. I passed through a low door into the small vaulted space. The chapel was as I recalled, a silent sanctuary in the bustling abbey. Dim light. A few prie-dieus, a few pews. Damp stone. The red lamp over the altar signified the Sacrament was reserved there, and I knelt and prayed for England and her saints, her church, her own walk with God. A frescoed image of a woman in green against a crimson background rose over the altar. Was this the French St. Faith, martyred in the third century for her beliefs? She points to a grill she holds in her left hand, and indeed, she died from grilling and beheading. Known in France as Sainte Foy and venerated where her relics lie in Conques, her name translates to Santa Fe in the U.S.
Faith Chapel has been closed over the years and I had missed this hidden holy place of prayer in England’s ancient abbey. I was glad it had opened again. A good, hopeful, and yes, faithful sign.