Arrived to a cold and wet London, and have settled into a historic hotel in the St. James area, close to Green Park, Piccadilly, and Buckingham Palace.
London is a walking city and on Friday we took advantage of the bits of blue sky appearing between clouds, the hopeful but weak sun blindingly bright if intermittent. We stepped around puddles, walking between neat facades of red brick and window boxes with pansies, white gabled townhouses alongside steel-and-glass office buildings, looking to the left and to the right before crossing as red double decker buses rumbled past.
We headed to Westminster Cathedral, the setting for a chapter in my third novel, Inheritance. I recalled it stood on the other side of Buckingham Palace, so we followed the long straight Mall to the Queen’s residence (her flag was flying indicating she was home), stopping to snap photos of the Horse Guards prancing toward us, serious and proud. Only in London, I thought, do you turn a corner and run into the Horse Guard parade.
I knew the way for I had visited often in the past. We wove through dense crowds peering through palace gates and around to Birdcage Walk and Buckingham Gate Road and past the old school house and the historic pub, then turned right on Victoria Street, heading toward the cathedral, its imposing Victorian brick façade looming above the square. The tall shade trees are green with spring now, and I could see through the leaves the frieze of Christ the King enthroned. I stepped under the frieze, through the doors and entered the marble Romanesque interior.
Each time I visit Westminster Cathedral I am torn between regret that the interior was never finished and thanksgiving for the church’s witness. The massive and colorful painted crucifix hangs above the transept as though in welcome and I moved up the central aisle slowly, passing under it as though being blessed. The nave was in shadow for we were between services, and I paused in the first row to pray before the glimmering high altar, pray for the embattled Church in our world today, for the light to banish the darkness.
In the north transept we found the Blessed Sacrament chapel, where many folks knelt before the tented tabernacle this cold Friday, this second week of Eastertide. I reflected how wonderful it all was, the Real Presence of Christ in such an enormous church personalizing the marble and gold and the soaring space, as though the Lord of a great manor had invited you to take off your heavy coat, pass through the imposing foyer, and to sit with him in the library by the warm fireside. I prayed an intimate prayer here, standing in the back, for a young woman, the daughter of friends, who has just been diagnosed with a brain tumor. It’s operable they say, but the agony of the news, for herself and for her family, still reels through my mind and heart. She is at the top of my intercessory prayer list now, nearly constantly being prayed for. And her family. Another friend, a sweet girl and talented writer, is facing serious pancreatic surgery, and she is next in my prayers. How frail we are, I thought, as I gazed upon the tabernacle. And how loving God is to love us through these times so that we may find ourselves on the other side, where the light is, where despair is replaced by hope.
I rose and moved down the north aisle, past John Southworth’s chapel, past the English Martyrs’ chapel, past St. Joseph’s chapel, to the gift shop where I found several icons of Christ the Good Shepherd. I had given away my last one at home, and these would replenish the supply. Before we left, I looked back up the nave to the painted crucifix before turning for the doors, thinking of my character Brother Cristoforo, the street urchin Nadia, and their adventures in the pages of my mind.
Next door, in the large Pauline store crammed with books and art, I found a painted icon of St. George and the Dragon, a fitting one to bring home from England. We needed today to slay many dragons.
With my newly acquired treasures carefully stowed in my bag, we headed for Westminster Abbey but didn’t visit – they charge a substantial sum and there are long lines, alas. The contrast to the free cathedral was obvious, and as an Anglican I was saddened, that such a historic church had become home to the money-changers, that one could not enter this Gothic royal church to pray. It had become a museum, and worth a visit (we have in the past), but today it was beginning to rain. We headed back for lunch.
It wasn’t until I gazed at my calendar in the room with a view to the next week’s saints that I realized that Sunday was Good Shepherd Sunday and Monday the Feast of St. George. I smiled, and somehow I knew my angels were smiling too.