On Wednesday we got up very early and caught a train from Edinburgh to London and had one last look at the city. First a quick stop at Kings Cross to see Platform 9 ¾ of Harry Potter fame. No big deal, just on a brick wall between platforms 9 and 10 there it was. What a hoot! Harry Potter moment #1. We then dumped our
bags at our hotel. And then went to the south bank and took a guided tour of the Globe Theatre on the bank of the Thames. It is an replica – a best guess since there are no schematic drawings available of the theatre. All we know about it is from actor and customer descriptions of it from the 17th century. The original was built in 1599 outside of town (on the south bank) since theatres were illegal in those days. The thatch roof caught fire during a performance of Henry VIII and it burned to the ground in 1614. It was then promptly rebuilt on the same foundation and resumed performances. When Oliver Cromwell took power he opposed the theatre (being a Puritan) and he had the second Globe Theatre destroyed in 1644. When Charles II was reinstated as king in 1655 he re-instituted the theatre and many new theatres were built in the West End of London, where they continue to operate today. It wasn’t until 1997 that the replica of the Globe was built and opened to the public. They had to go through tons of red tape to build it too. For starters in is a three story wood timber frame building (not up to modern building code) with the first thatch roof allowed in London since 1666. Why is that? Because on the North bank, a couple hundred feet away, a baker left his oven on overnight and the shop caught fire. It was a windy night and glowing embers from the fire landed on thatched roofs all across London. The fire jumped from house to house and more than half the city was destroyed. They made it a law that clay roofs on all houses were required from then on. In the case of the Globe they made an exception.
Our tour guide was Antony and, let’s just say he is familiar with drama. He gave us a rousing tour of the theatre with broad gestures and two handed flourishes. He stubbornly refused to use the name of the play which I remember goes back to a superstition among the drama community. Actors think that ‘Macbeth’ is bad luck. They won’t say the word unless it’s in their lines. When Antony was finished with his tour he bowed low at the waist with a hand behind his back and the other flicked into the air. Who says a drama degree can’t get you a cool job. We were brought into the theatre and got to see a rehearsal of Macbeth, the play we were going to see that night. Another English expression explained:
“Dry Run” They were practising with the child actors for the scene where MacDuff’s wife and two kids are murdered. We heard the stage director call, “All right, from the top. We’ll do it dry,” meaning without stage blood. This is where the phrase, dry run comes from.
From there we walked the Millennium Bridge (seen in the latest Harry Potter film, Harry Potter moment #2) and arrived at St. Paul’s Cathedral about 90 minutes before closing. We reluctantly sprung for the twelve pound entry fee and were glad we did it. It was breath-taking. Easily the most spectacular sight either of us had seen. The opulence of the Nave is overwhelming. The dome is over 68m (225 ft) above the floor – a 22 story building would fit easily inside the central chamber. Each of the six sides are decorated with a fresco that leaps off the ceiling. We climbed 190 stairs, first to the whispering gallery from which the floor below was a distant sight. 250 more steps got us to the outside observation gallery and then a final flight of 90 stairs got us to the very top of the dome. A breath taking view of the whole city can be seen from
there. The Cathedral was built in 1690s at a cost of 750 000 pounds! It was so decadent that they had to leave the decorating out. It wasn’t added until Queen Victoria decided that the place needed a paint job over a hundred years later. It costs 3.5 million pounds a year to operate the joint. No wonder they charge 12 pounds to see it. By the time we got back down there was only a few minutes to explore the crypt. Below the Nave there was the monument to Admiral Horatio Nelson (killed at the battle of Trafalgar and brought back to England pickled in whisky.) We also saw the monument to Florence Nightingale which says ‘Blessed are the Angels of Mercy’. Go nurses! There were whole wings of the crypt that were closing as we scurried around. We saw maybe half of it. We went back up to the nave and they were just preparing for Evensong service so we were able to sit and hear the choir sing. Wow! When they stopped singing it took four seconds for the sound to stop vibrating through the Nave. With the organ booming it was spectacular. You just don’t hear acoustics like that in any old building.
It broke my heart to think how this building and it’s predecessor had been financed: through the sale of indulgences and the sale of salvation for the dead. It’s kind of like our tour of the Tate Gallery. We learned how the Tate Gallery was generously funded by Henry Tate, but later learned that he made his fortune in the sugar trade in the 18th and 19th century. His fortune was made on the backs of black slaves purchased and taken to the Caribbean from Africa. It is so sad.
I also had time to think about how, as protestant, non denominational evangelicals we would argue that we don’t need a temple or a huge church to worship. We are that place of worship. The Holy Spirit dwells within us. Is God worthy of such extravagant worship? More. He is worthy of even more spectacular efforts at more extravagant expense and yet God has said in the first chapter of Isaiah, “I wish they would shut the doors of your temples, stop making your sacrifices! I hate your festivals. I would rather have justice.” On the other hand I am humbled with the thought that I am that beautiful place of worship. I can be the majestic place of holy worship to our God. God would rather have justice and charity done by my hand than a magnificent worship service. I was thrilled, humiliated, stunned, saddened all at the same time.
After a quick bite in St. Paul’s square we went across the river for our show at the Globe. ‘The Scottish play’ was a spectacular sight. Actors came up through the crowd standing in the centre. We were on the second level and had a magnificent view of the stage. The play is quite violent but it was fairly accurate to the script without much license being taken by the director. The kids murder scene went without a hitch. It was kind of funny though, they did better in practice. It was a spectacular final day in London.