By Ben Fuller
Copy Editor, English, ’16
From the 7th through the 15th of January 2015, Professors Dottie Joiner and Margaret Reneke of the LaGrange College art department took a group of thirteen students and six alumni to London, England for a study abroad course about the art and architecture of the richly historic city. While there, we had the opportunity to see many famous sites and artworks, and learned their history and significance.
After an initial guided bus tour from the airport and recovering from jet lag on day one, we began fresh on the morning of the 9th with trips to Westminster Abbey and the British Museum.
Westminster is a soaring Gothic cathedral serving as the final resting place of several English, Scottish, and British monarchs, including figures like Henry III and Mary, Queen of Scots, among many others. In addition, famous scientists are here, such as Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin. Also, several famous poets and authors are interred in Poet’s Corner, which includes the tombs of writers from Geoffrey Chaucer to Charles Dickens and memorials to the likes of William Shakespeare and C.S. Lewis. Westminster is famous for King Edward’s Chair, a throne where all English and British monarchs have been crowned since 1308.
The British Museum, our second stop, contains famous ancient artifacts, most notably the Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Marbles that once adorned the Parthenon.
The following day, we again stepped back into history, further than even Westminster and the British Museum could take us—all the way back to 3,500 BC, the approximate time of the construction of the most famous of all prehistoric monoliths, Stonehenge, which stands in the countryside two hours outside of London, is among many prehistoric burial grounds.
In the same area is Salisbury Cathedral, where we climbed the inside of the towering spire. It holds the Guinness World Record for the tallest spire of a medieval cathedral (404 feet), which gave us a panoramic, miles-long view of the entire town of Salisbury and beyond.
The next day, we toured two museums: the National Gallery and the Tate Britain. The National Gallery contains some of the most famous pieces of Western art from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance and into the 19th century. Notably, it displayed da Vinci’s Virgin of the Rocks and van Gogh’s Sunflowers. Trafalgar Square, where the museum sat, was likewise full of lively art, including street performances, monuments commemorating the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar against the French, and a giant blue chicken, erected in 2013 and remaining for a limited time only.
The Tate Britain, the second museum of the day, was full of historical and contemporary artwork of Britain, including a vast collection of the works of J.M.W. Turner.
On the 12th, we walked in the footsteps of royalty when we toured Hampton Royal Palace, once inhabited by the royal family of Henry VIII. The palace is adorned with amazing ceiling art reminiscent of the Sistine Chapel and contains lavish bedchambers and dining rooms, chocolate kitchens, the historic tennis court, and even a chapel. Lush gardens, courtyards, fountains, and a hedge maze are spread across the palace’s expansive grounds.
On our final day of explorations as a class, we climbed to the heights of another cathedral, St. Paul’s. We walked around the base of the massive dome, a ring of huge mosaics of the Four Evangelists and their symbols decorating the curvature of the wall directly underneath. Climbing even higher and walking on the cathedral’s balconies, we could see the entire cityscape of London for miles, including skyscrapers, the London Eye, and the Thames River cutting through it all underneath both the Millennium and London Bridges. The cathedral is also the resting place of many important figures in the art world, including J.M.W. Turner (whose works we saw), Christopher Wren (who designed the cathedral), and William Blake (both a poet and an artist).
Finally, we finished the academic portion of the trip with a brief stop at the Tate Modern, a museum housing the works of modern artists such as Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso.
After several days of visiting and studying historic places, we had one full day left for private explorations. I personally enjoyed such locations as Warner Bros. Studios, Leavesden, home to the original Harry Potter sets, the London Sea Life Aquarium, and the original Hard Rock Café. Others visited sports complexes like Wimbledon Centre Court (tennis) and Arsenal Stadium (soccer), Abbey Road (as seen on the cover of The Beatles album), and 221B Baker Street, famous for its association with Sherlock Holmes.
After so much exposure to British culture and history, I have a better appreciation for London and for traveling in general. The trip was a great learning experience and I’d recommend that every student take advantage of the opportunity to travel abroad, see things previously only heard about, step through history, and earn a greater appreciation for the cultural heritage of not just the country being visited, but the entire world.