Tower of London -- Sunday service review
It's amazing how many places you can get into for free by pretending to be religious — St. Paul's, Westminster Abbey, Hampton Court... and now the Chapel Royal at Tower of London. If I knew London sightseeing was so cheap for christians I would have converted ages ago. It must be one of the perks — not only do you get entry into heaven, but you get free entry into a load of tourist attractions too. Praise be to Jesus!
All you've got to do is walk up to the Beefeater by the main gate and say you're there for the mass, and he'll let you straight through — past all the people who paid for their ticket. Yup, I know it sounds daft, but trust me — I've done it. It works. Once you're through the gate you are basically on your own. They'll let you walk to the chapel all be yourself, totally unescorted. They certainly are very trusting, these christians.
It only works on Sunday mornings though, because that's when the mass is. And you do actually have to attend the mass, so it's not a total free pass.
I know exactly what your next question is... can I have a look around the rest of the Tower as well? Well the answer to that is... no. You're not supposed to. If you want to see the whole lot then you're supposed to buy a full-price ticket. But there doesn't seem to be a lot to stop you miscreants from trying. Just don't blame me if you end up in the dungeon (or a police cell). Because quite frankly you'll deserve it, for sinning so soon after attending mass. Luckily I'm a member of Historic Royal Palaces anyway (which gives me free entry into the palaces), so I could walk around totally guilt free. I didn't actually tell them that I was a member though, so I could see how the process works. And it does work (trust me).
You get to see a quite a lot of the Tower anyway, just walking to the church, because it's situated right inside the grounds. Once you've come through the main gate the route takes you down Water Lane to Traitor's Gate. Then you turn left through the Bloody Tower arch, and up the stairs to Tower Green. The famous White Tower will loom up on your right as you stroll up the steps, and you'll get a glimpse of Waterloo Barracks as well, where they keep the Crown Jewels. The church itself is situated right behind the execution site, where Henry's Queens all knelt and lost their head.
At 10:45 they'll start letting you in for the 11 o'clock Matin. It's a very nice compact little church, but it's not going to knock your socks off like St. Paul's Cathedral. It's basically just a big box with a few columns down the middle. There are no stained glass windows or anything like that. The altar is a very simple affair with a few candlesticks, crucifix and plain table and cloth. There are a few memorials around the walls and floor, encased behind metal spikes. They've also got a brown wood organ with golden pipes. But the real glory is buried in the floor — because this is where the headless corpses of all the traitors lie: people like Anne Boleyn, Lady Jane Grey and the Earl of Essex.
The mass is about to start any minute now... so I'm quietly writing this in a pew. Not even God can see me scribbling. Because it's a Sunday service everyone is dressed up to the nines. Suits and scarves and jackets and ties are the order of the day. I get the impression that the same congregation comes every week, made up from the people who live inside the Tower. There's not a lot of tourists here. I think I'm probably the only one. It's all old folks and couples in their Sunday best, chatting to each other like old friends. I'm trying to tot them up in my head and I reckon there's about 50, plus another 10 for the choir. The choir is all decked out in white robes and red dresses, parading in behind a Yeoman warder.
Because it's such a small place the singing really fills the church and it's some of the nicest stuff I've heard. They are doing choral works by Haydn at the moment, standing in a group by the altar. They've got one bird singing solo lines above the bearded blokes and it really is very pretty. Very pretty indeed.
Uh-oh... drama time. One lady has just shuffled out of her line and ran out crying, weeping down the aisle. The Yeoman warder by the door tries to comfort her but he is a big burly bloke about ten feet tall, which would have been a difficult shoulder to cry on. I wonder what her story was? I guess it's between her and God, and we'll leave her be.
After an hour it's all over and they've set up a few tables for coffee. Most of the people stay behind for a chat and a cake, but I head back out into the pouring rain. That is probably Gods way of thanking this non-believer for infiltrating his house, sending me home with a wet coat and a cold.
Of all the church services I've been to in London, this is easily the least popular with tourists. St. Paul's and Westminster Abbey were probably both about 80% tourists, Hampton Court less so (about 20%). But this one was basically just me and the locals — them in their suits and shoes, and me in my jumper and jeans. It was also the only service where I felt like I was intruding on their do, which is silly really because of course it was very friendly. I even had a chat with the vicar by the door.
Guest – I suggest you DON'T call it mass here! Mass is a very Catholic word and this chapel is VERY Church of England (obviously!). I suggest you call it a 'Service'. I was told off once when I phoned to ask what time The Mass started!!
Admin – Noted... I suppose I was lucky they didnt march me out ten steps to Tower Green. That's how they used to deal with sinners at the Tower of London.
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