Westminster Abbey -- Evensong review
You know you're getting old when you'd rather go to a Choral Evensong at Westminster Abbey than a night out clubbing, but ah well -- I am at that stage in life now. I am officially an adult.
The whole thing begins at the big West Door (near the shop), and I recommend that you start queuing up after 4. The tourists all get kicked out of the Abbey between 4 and half-4, and a gargantuan gathering quickly grows at the gate waiting to be let in for mass. I am guessing that about 300-400 people ended up attending my little evensong, so you can imagine what the scrum is like when they open the gate -- people surge through like they're cramming on a tube train. It's a pretty unsightly scrum for a church service. Women, children, old ladies, they all get kicked over and trampled on so bring some extra large elbows with you if you want to get a seat near the front. This is probably what it's going to be like at Armageddon -- people queuing up at the Pearly Gates fighting to get in.
The service takes place in front of the golden altar in the heart of the Abbey, which is pretty spectacular. The seats are arranged in the North and South Transpets, and the Altar and Quire stretch out either side. I was lucky enough to get near the front, so I had a great view of the famous Cosmati pavement (where William and Kate sat during their wedding service). The Quire is a series of wooden stalls with little red lampshades, and a high gold and blue background. That is where the choir sits and stands to sing. The choir for my service was from the Queen's College, Oxford. Unfortunately I wasn't so lucky with my neighbours, who proceeded to blather on about Candy Crush for half-an-hour. She even kicked off her socks and shoes to waggle her toes. The rest of the congregation seemed to be a mix of old ladies trying to pray, two hundred tourists, young kids being dragged along by their mums, and an old guy !@$% up the remains of his snuff box. It was a mixed bunch.
Then the service gets going with gospels and prayers, and every now and then the crowd will break into a sing-song with the choir. You get issued with a little hymn sheet beforehand, but there is no pressure to sing. Not every song is sung by the congregation -- most of the time it will be performed by the choir alone. That's when the singing truly shines -- the choir was fantastic. The sound they make is echoed around the Abbey and seems to come at you from all directions. If my local church sounded like that every Sunday then I would have converted ages ago. It's a lot easier to believe in God when you're standing in Westminster Abbey with the Queen's College Choir sounding out.
The whole thing lasted about an hour and was over by six. Then the priests parade out again and you are very quickly ushered out the door. There is no time for sightseeing. You end up on the front steps where the priest is waiting to say goodbye, wishing everyone peace on earth and all of that kind of thing etc. The bells are peeling high above your head ringing out the end of mass, until they slowly get drowned out by the beeping traffic and motorbikes roaring round to Parliament Square. Then you can smell the hot dog burger van that is parked ten metres from the gate.
It was definitely worth doing, without a doubt -- even if you're not religious. There's a lot to enjoy, and be moved by, if you let it.
Guest – I certainly enjoyed your blog. Very interesting and you have a wonderful sense of humor. Great blog.
Guest – Can one sit in the choir seats when attending evening song prayers? What is the general length of the service? Thank you
Admin – To be honest I can't remember. You definitely can at St. Paul's because I sat in them myself (but then you're sitting behind the altar), but I think the ones at Westminster Abbey were taken up by the actual choir. The service lasts about an hour.
Guest – To be honest your last paragraph sums up the entire 20_21st Century religious experience within eight lines - -I will do it in one -Mercenary.
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