The most extraordinary things in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries are the galleries themselves. Suddenly you see a huge chunk of Westminster Abbey that has never been open to the public since Henry III rebuilt the place in 1250.
They are literally a revelation – like stumbling on an extra ballroom at Versailles, or finding a Rembrandt in the cupboard under the stairs.
The galleries are housed in Westminster Abbey’s triforium, 52 feet above the abbey floor. In most big churches, the triforium is a narrow passage running at first-floor level around the nave and chancel.
At Westminster Abbey, the triforium is enormously wide, flanked by vast lancets and rose windows which give staggering views over the Palace of Westminster. Look the other way, inside the abbey, along the length of the nave, and you see what John Betjeman called “the best view in Europe”.
To get to the new triforium, you climb the abbey’s first new tower in nearly 300 years – a subtle exercise by Ptolemy Dean in modern Gothic, squirreled away behind Poets’ Corner, clad in the 17 different stones used on the abbey – from the Purbeck stone used by Edward the Confessor in his 1050 abbey to the Clipsham stone in 20th-century restorations.
The most striking thing you see when you climb the new tower is Christopher Wren’s 1716 wooden model of his planned tower. If only it had been built – the abbey is a sublime building, but how it lacks a tower on the scale of, say, Salisbury Cathedral’s.
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