Book Trade – Memorial to C S Lewis in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey, London
Friday 22nd November 2013 is the 50th anniversary of C S Lewis’s death in 1963; a date he shares with USA President J F Kennedy. A permanent memorial to Clive Staples Lewis (1898 – 1963); writer, scholar and ‘one of the most significant Christian apologists of the twentieth century’, was laid today in the floor of the South Transept at Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey.
The service to dedicate the memorial was uplifting and joyful, a spiritual occasion with shades of a funeral farewell. Hymns were sung which I hadn’t heard since my school days – John Bunyan’s He who would valiant be – a throwback to Lewis’s world of the 1950’s; so all the more significant then that Lewis’s books continue to sell in such volume, and with such wide appeal. The Chronicles of Narnia have sold upwards of 100m copies around the world! Mere Christianity continues as a classic.
The rather pronounced English voice of Belfast-born ‘Jack’ Lewis (taken from his wartime talks for the BBC) was broadcast in the Abbey on this bitterly cold but sunlit November day in London;
‘Look for Christ and you will get Him, and with Him, everything else thrown in. Look for yourself and you will get only hatred, loneliness, despair and ruin’.
C S Lewis’s last pupil read a lesson; the service was seamless and beautifully choreographed. The Abbey was filled with a soft light suffused through the glorious stained glass and with soaring choral music which echoed off the ancient stonework. As the memorial was dedicated, there was a reading from The Last Battle:
‘Now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no-one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before’.
The draw for many in this audience was the past Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and a Lewis author (The Lion’s World : SPCK) who gave a short but erudite address. On this occasion he wisely left Narnia alone, concentrating instead on Lewis’s science fiction trilogy. Lord Williams of Oystermouth homed in on how Lewis deplored the misuse of language; how he saw it is used to hide from ourselves and to hide from reality.
Our questions fall away; we have nothing to say because we have too much to say.
Rowan Williams noted Lewis’s aversion to the King James Bible which he saw as getting in the way of our understanding. Instead Lewis preferred the Moffatt and J B Phillips translations of the Bible in order to best ‘hear’ the freshness of the text.
The one-hour service ended with a choral anthem based on verses written by C S Lewis and specially commissioned for today’s service. Then the long queue began as almost the entire congregation snaked around the Abbey to view the new slate memorial stone set at the base of one of the stone pillars in Poets’ Corner, engraved with Lewis’s words:
‘I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else’.