Last time I was in London, back in 2001, the one big tourist attraction I paid for was Westminster Abbey. This was on December 31, just after I’d met up with a friend of mine from study abroad: after the semester ended, we agreed to meet up at noon in front of Buckingham Palace on that particular day. This was before I had a cell phone or reliable internet, and so I trusted she would remember for the weeks we didn’t see each other, hoping, as I sat in the drizzle of rain for what seemed like a long time, waiting, that she had not forgotten. She finally showed up, with her British friend, protected by an umbrella. And then we went to Westminster Abbey and walked across the graves of a bunch of well-known dead people.
“When I’m dead, I’m going to get buried here, so that people will say: was she famous or what?” said the British friend.
As we were leaving, I noticed that you could go to an actual service at the Abbey, like normal people do instead of paying to see the inside of a church. That would be better, I thought. Maybe I’ll do that sometime.
So today I did. Evensong is every day, mostly at 5 p.m., but it’s at 3 p.m. on Sundays. You go up to the North Gate, which is guarded by some old guy in crimson to keep the tourists at bay, and he says “can I help you?” and you reply “I’m here for Evensong,” and he lets you in. If you’re half an hour early, and you go in as the bells are ringing, you’ll get a good seat. Not that it will do you much good if you’re in the mood to document it, because you’re not supposed to take photos, and it seems more cheeky than normal to break the rules during a church service. The Westminster Choir is well worth the wait, and the young boys and mostly-young-men sing as they have done for centuries. Only in English, because they’re Anglican. The Abbey claims that it has echoed with music every day for over a thousand years, and as I sat I couldn’t help but think of all the kings and queens that had been coronated there (and then buried there, some of them). You sit, you stand, you sing, you speak; it’s a fairly interactive bit of authentic historical artifact, particularly as far as tourist attractions go.