Sunday, July 22, 2012

King's Chapel

The night of our first Formal Hall, the Chaplain Richard Lloyd Morgan told the attendees that we were welcome to set up an appointment with him, and he would bring a group to the roof of King's College Chapel. This is not only a huge privilege of being a student of King's College, but also an honor to be invited to explore something that few members of the public will ever see.

Henry VI started the construction himself on July 25, 1446. That is, the first stone was placed by him. The rest of it was done by a myriad of architects and workers, who dragged each stone from a quarry, cut it perfectly, and then hoisted it to its new position in this beautiful building. It's a very long building, though not very wide. Here are some pictures of the exterior and interior:


I pass this building on my way to classes, each day. I cannot tell you how many times I have just glanced up from the cobblestone when it is rainy and unpleasant, only to be struck still by the beauty and majesty of it.

To say this building 'reminds' me of where I am is nowhere near correct. It is far more accurate to say that it looms over me no matter where I stand in this town, and presses its presence down on me. You are here, it booms from every angle.

The Chaplain met us inside the chapel while tourists writhed around us, trying to get the best angle to take in the architecture. He gave a few of us flashlights, and we left our bags and coats at the bottom of a long stairwell. He said there were 85 steps, but it felt as if that couldn't possibly be right. We got to the top much faster than I expected. That could also have been my anticipation. The walls were cool here, and we saw by the light of periodic windows: thin little things, but illuminated so much more than expected.

Up at the top, we passed through another thick wooden door, and entered the space just above the ceiling. At its thinnest, the rock there is only four inches thick. There are occasionally small holes where you can peek through to see those below you. Despite a lifetime of height-anxiety, I wasn't frightened of what I saw through that small hole. I felt safe standing on the firm stone. This space is massive; it spans the entire length of the chapel, and is only lit by two grated windows at either side. It's very dark, but after the climb, we all felt rather warm. A breeze came through the windows, rustling our hair. For just a moment, I was hoping we would all stop moving and exist in the minefield of silence that awaited us, just below the surface of rustling clothes and camera clicks. 

I did not take any pictures of this place. I couldn't tell you why.

We stepped carefully, using our torches to light the way from one end of the chapel to the other, and exited yet another ancient door. Up yet more steps, and we found ourselves on the rooftop of King's College Chapel. What follows are photographs I took, because I don't know if I could find the words to describe the experience that won't come out as a prayer or expletives.

Looking down at the Hall, where we eat each day.

The most beautiful (and arguably one of the most unique) views of Cambridge.

A story goes that for Christmas one year, students climbed to these points, and hung Santa Hats from the lightning rods on this and many other chapels in the city. They were left on King's College Chapel, because it is a chapel of the Virgin Mary and St. Nicholas.

Also, do you see where the roof angles from one side to the other? We climbed that twice, as you'll see below.

Us climbing the ladder from one side to the other. You can see the Chaplain in the bottom left.

At the dead center. How beautiful is this?

Looking down on the grass that no one is supposed to walk on.

Directly after this, we had to rush down and split up. Most of us had lectures and seminars within ten minutes of the tour ending, and the Chaplain had an appointment. We rushed out with a series of thank yous and promises to stop by again. 

This was an honor. It made me so grateful that this is where I am, that the chapel can loom over me with its big booming reminder, that I am not letting fears or anxieties stop me from making the most of this trip.

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