I arrived at London’s Liverpool Station on a Monday just as office workers were taking their lunch break. The station area was a maze of quick-moving humanity. Without hesitation, I hailed a taxi and was taken to my small hotel for the week – The Thanet in Bloomsbury, a small, sweet hotel recommended by my Gainesville friends, Barbara and Charlie. My tiny room was quiet, cell-like, and very comfortable. Although I love big cities and am relatively comfortable moving through them, I had never been to London and had a lot to learn about my whereabouts and the geography. SO . . . I bought a two-day bus and boat narrated sightseeing tour that allowed me to get on and off transportation at will. I hoped that I would learn to negotiate London in two days but that was definitely not the case!
I had planned a relatively short agenda for this last week – seeing the Lindisfarne Gospels at the British Library, going to Westminster Cathedral, and visiting some of the major museums. Because the British Museum was near the Thanet, I went there right away on Tuesday before continuing the second day of my London bus tour. I had seen a promo for an exhibit of 18th century watercolors by Francis Towne, who traveled widely and painted his environment, and I made a point to see this show, “Light, Time, Legacy: Francis Towne’s Watercolours of Rome.” I loved these beautiful pieces that are 200 years old and was once again was affirmed in the knowledge that watercolor applied over graphite seals the work. My second Tuesday stop was at Westminster Cathedral, the largest Catholic cathedral in Britain that represents Catholics in England and Wales. It is located just off Victoria Street, near Victoria Station in one of the historically poorer sections of London. I have a family connection to this cathedral because John Southworth, probably the grandson of Sir John Southworth, who lost Samlesbury Hall because of penal tax imposition during the Reformation, is interred there. In fact, this John Southworth is a saint – Saint John Southworth – and his relics lie in state in the chapel dedicated to St Michael and the English saints. He is the last of the English Catholic martyrs who died during the Reformation. I was compelled to revisit St John’s beautiful reliquary and this extraordinary church many times before I left London Sunday morning, August 14th.
My museum tour included the British Library, where the Lindisfarne Gospels are housed and exhibited. Sadly for me, they were not on view this summer because of their cleaning and restoration but I was treated to a wonderful exhibit of other early Christian manuscripts like, for example Codex Sinaitus. II went to the Tate Britain, a museum that faces the Thames River specifically to see a current exhibit on British painters interpretation of Alcohol and Alcoholism from the 19th century to the present. This exhibit had deep resonance for me because of the sadness, terror, and violence that was portrayed by the artists. I was amazed by how much was clearly realized about alcohol and alcoholism so long ago.
I enjoyed walking in my Bloomsbury neighborhood, a relatively quiet area traditionally home to writers and artists. There are beautiful grassy parks with abundant flowers located at each end of the street where I stayed and it was a treat to walk through them each day. I walked to do my laundry in this area near the University of London’s Bloomsbury campus. I became familiar with the cafes and restaurants in the neighborhood, favoring a Turkish place where I ate supper three evenings. I found an old, traditional art supply store, Cornelissen’s, where I searched gift items not found in the US. All the while in London, I drew in my journey daybook. I took a short obligatory tour through Harrod’s – a museum in itself! This is the iconic department store that began as a food emporium and the food and food related products are real works of art. I bought a beautiful small insulated picnic basket that I plan to take on Journey Daybook Adventures.
During this beautiful London week, I retuned again and again to Westminster Cathedral to visit St John Southworth’s relics. I read as much as I could about him, finding a few small books and prayer cards in the cathedral shop to bring home. I spent one morning sitting on my drawing stool in the chapel of the British martyrs drawing St John’s body lying in its glass coffin. I fell in love with this saint as I got to know him: his work with the very poor and sick, his rising above isolation and persecution, and his life that was fueled by his deep faith. I am astonished that I developed a very personal connection with a saint – St John Southworth! He is my ancestor and he has now become very real to me. My friend, Kim, suggested that I need to explore the underlying meaning of this connection. All I am sure of is that the experience of connection with Saint John was definitely the point of my pilgrimage! Now, I need to learn what I am supposed to do next.
The journey continues . . .