My first day in London!

Where else could I go but to the only respectable church in all of Christendom? It was most cool to step out of the Tube station and look up and recognize this rather huge, ornate building.


We walked around this elaborate pile, guarded by grim-looking fellows carrying nasty big guns.


There was another huge stone building there. We went inside and took the tour.


An awful lot of people seemed to have tried to have achieved immortality by surrounding their corpses with ornate sarcophagi. You can find Elizabeth I’s stony likeness in there, for instance, atop a big stone box holding, presumably, the more modest and now crumbling bundle of calcium phosphate she had personally assembled during her life.

What I was there for was just off the main entrance. There was a pair of huge monuments with cherubs and globes and the stern statues of Newton and Stanhope front and center, and good on the church for giving them that much attention; the Principia was a more impressive achievement than any hunk of carved marble, but I suppose just having a copy of the book on hand has less superficial heft than a few tons of rock.

Off to one side was a simple stone, surrounded by a few Herschels:


Thank you, Church of England, for keeping this memorial, but I’m not fooled. You may seek to sanctify your sacred spaces by appropriating and honoring the dead, but it’s the living work of human beings that counts.


  1. says

    Ashamedly you’ve seen some of London’s sights that I haven’t yet! Hope you’re having fun.

    If you have the time whilst you’re here I would love to buy you a pint!

  2. Martin Christensen says

    For once you ought to master your antipathy towards religion and attend any concerts and evensong services in the great churches, Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral in particular. I did when I visited London in March, and it was certainly among the more memorable musical experiences I’ve had. Of course, I’m rather biased towards that kind of music. The organ in Westminster… wow! And the choir is superb! The pious grovelling can be tuned out.


  3. CCP says

    “You can find Elizabeth I’s stony likeness in there, for instance, atop a big stone box holding, presumably, the more modest and now crumbling bundle of calcium carbonate she had personally assembled during her life.”

    so…are you suggesting that Liz was a mollusk? or maybe a coral polyp?
    (as you well know, most of us vertebrates assemble our hardparts of calcium phosphate, mostly)

  4. says

    Sir, step clear of the clock tower. I worked in Parliament a few decades ago, and one day asked a clerk of works what he’d been doing: ‘Oh, shoring up Big Ben with six by six timbers.’ Seems when they dug the underground car park they rather did for the structural integrity of the old Grandmother of Parliaments, and the towers are now rather inclined towards one another. We can’t let Pisa have all the leaning towers.

  5. ajay says

    If you take a look at the currency, you’ll see a familiar beard on the £10 note too…

  6. gravitybear says

    Well, I’d much rather be there in London wit you, PZ, instead of in Ada, OK, which is where I actually have to go to today. Almost hoping the snow in Mpls was enough to cancel my flight, but it doesn’t look like that will happen. But my family and I are saving up the necessary funds for a trip to London. We’ll get there someday. And I will most certainly visit Darwin’s resting place.

  7. says

    This seems like the right place to quote a few lines from Amanda McKittrick Ros’s excruciating poem On visiting Westminster Abbey, which was written in the early 1930s. (The frightening thing is that it’s not a parody.)

    Holy Moses! Have a look!
    Flesh decayed in every nook!
    Some rare bits of brain lie here,
    Mortal loads of beef and beer,
    Some of whom are turned to dust,
    Every one bids lost to lust;
    Royal flesh so tinged with ‘blue’
    Undergoes the same as you.

  8. Coragyps says

    University College London on (or in, I guess, to be truly correct) Gower Street has a nice bit of Darwiniana carved on (in?) one of their buildings. Good photo op…

    Drink a pint for me.

  9. Lycaenops says

    “Thank you, Church of England, for keeping this memorial, but I’m not fooled. You may seek to sanctify your sacred spaces by appropriating and honoring the dead”

    You miss the point, PZ. The CofE has very little to do with religion, sacred or otherwise. It is part of the Establishment, and Darwin was very much a part of that too. Westminster Abbey is a monument not to God, but to Britain.

  10. says

    In the delightful collection of Sherlock Holmes / Lovecraft crossover stories, -Shadows Over Baker Street-, the first and best story features a 19th Century world which has been ruled since the Middle Ages by the Great Old Ones, one of whom is the immense and terrible Gloriana, Queen of England.

    Since this Gloriana is clearly a relative of Cthulhu, and therefore apparently a mollusc, presumably her tonnage is scaffolded with calcium carbonate.

    There. That’s probably as close as you’re likely to come to Elizabeth I as a mollusc.

  11. NelC says

    Where else could I go but to the only respectable church in all of Christendom?

    I assume you mean “church” in some metaphorical sense. I think, technically, Westminster is a palace.

  12. Tom McCann says

    PZ, If you go there again, you might like to say hello to Brian Haw. This modern day hero has been camping in Parliament Square (right opposite the gates of parliament) for nearly 2000 days to protest at what Britain and the U.S. have been doing in Iraq. He is a thorn in the side of the establishment. They even passed a law especially to get rid of him, but he fought it and he’s still there.

    Brian loves people to come and say hello and give him a little bit of moral and brotherly support. You can see more at

    Wish I could join you for that beer on Saturday but I’ve got to go to lovely Belfast. Enjoy!

  13. ChrisO says

    NelC, noooooo… he means Westminster Abbey, not the Palace of Westminster (on the other side of the road!).

  14. Dave Godfrey says

    Did you spot the memorial to Alfred Russel Wallace nearby? There’s also one to Edmond Halley (another personal hero of mine).

  15. says

    You payed the entrance fee?

    Last time i was at London, i intended to make the same visit. I was asked to pay an entrance fee to Westminster Abbey. I refused.

    The Church of England already receives loads of tax money to keep their churches open to the public, why should Westminster Abbey be different?

    The way I felt since then, was that Darwin, newton and others, wich are part of MY cultural heritage as a atheist, are ramson in the hands of the church of England. Do they ask for money to entry in St.Paul’s???

    Compare that to the open door policy in The Science, Natural History and British Museum’s in London…

  16. says

    Andre Esteves asks whether they ask for money to enter St Paul’s. Yes, they do (or did when I was there last year). I think you can get in free if you are going to the services. But speaking of that, if you’re going to Evensong for the music and atmosphere, it may be better to go to Westminster Abbey. Last year also, I went to the evensong in St Paul’s, and it was not an impressive show beyond the architecture, because the public sat about 100 yards from the actual service. Well, maybe less; but only a few people armed with I don’t know what privilege sat in the enormous space between the choir and the part of the nave where the rest sat. And way out where we were, the audience (sorry, congregation) weren’t a model of silent reverence proper for such a service, or for any other serious performance.

    As for charging money, it’s not nice, but after all these are major public monuments that cost some money to keep up. Let the church pay, and if they can’t, just shut the things down? Not good. Put more public money into it so that it stays free? I agree: put more public money into supporting these churches. Not so bad a dilemma in a highly secular country that has a state church as in a near-fanatically religious country with a First Amendment.

  17. NelC says

    But Big Ben is part of the palace, isn’t it? I must admit I didn’t recognise the abbey, never having paid any attention to it before.

  18. says

    Chére LoinPork Junior,

    Behold the english church: Porlock Junior «The church commissioners’ annual report reveals how it has emerged as one of the most successful money managers in Britain.» maybe they are investing with the «Lord’s hand» help… Althought that hand is not even seen in the charity of the church…

    What ingland needs is a vast collection of old but useful guillotines for cutting down the crimes of monarchy and multiculturalism.

    Hail to the Republic!!!

    Add to it:

  19. says

    Pisa doesn’t have all the leaning towers. Bologna has two, side by side. Picture 1 is the Palace of Westminster clock tower. Although it is commonly known as Big Ben, the name actually refers to the main bell that chimes the hours.

  20. Stogoe says

    The Tower that holds Big Ben is part of the houses of Parliament, which is a cool building. Probably even cooler inside than watching a movie blow it up. Which, admittedly, was really cool.