My rating: 4 of 5 stars
With over a thousand years of history behind it, Westminster Abbey is the repository of memory in the heart of London. Anyone who is anyone in the United Kingdom tried to get themselves buried in the Abbey for hundreds of years. Those who were buried elsewhere were often honored with a monument as grand as a life-sized sculpture or as simple as a plaque on the wall. One could spend hours wandering amongst the statuary inside the church and still miss many gems.
The abbey’s website says, “Taken as a whole, the tombs and memorials comprise the most significant single collection of monumental sculpture anywhere in the United Kingdom.” Unfortunately, photography inside the Abbey is prohibited. Some photographs of the monuments are available in the Abbey’s gift shop or in one of the souvenir guidebooks for sale. What is needed, though, is a serious photographic study of the wonders jammed cheek by jowl against the Abbey’s walls.
This book attempts to document some of the mortuary sculpture. Of necessity, the shades of gray in the photos blunt the whiteness of the marble and brighten the darkness of the shadows, so they don’t completely do justice to the Abbey’s treasures. Still, Blundell has a fascination with detail and uses tight focus to good effect, giving a sense of the way your eye bounces around the room, struggling to take it all in.
I like that the book includes capsule biographies of the people commemorated by the statuary. I wish the biographies were attached to their pictures, rather than arranged by number at the back of the book. The arrangement makes sense if you’re at the Abbey, working your way around the room and matching the photographs to the artwork. As a reader who might be interested in finding, say, Isaac Newton’s grave, the lack of alphabetization or an index means that I have to read through the biographies until I find him, then cross-reference back to the photo.
Still, until I can make my own collection of photographs from Westminster Abbey, I’m glad to have this book. It’s lovely, if frustrating.
The book is inexplicably out of print. I got my copy from eBay, but Amazon does have some used copies for sale: Westminster Abbey: The Monuments
Cemetery of the Week #63: Westminster Abbey, London, England
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