Isaac Newton (1642-1727) is one of the most important scientific men in the World! He invented the differential calculus and his Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (“Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy”), first published in 1687, laid the foundations for most of classical mechanics. So my visit to the Westminster Abbey had to be a special moment in the holidays because I was going to see his tomb (meanwhile I was writting the chapter about him in my new book which is going to be published in 2014!). However, the first thing that everybody in the abbey tell you when you arrive there is… “Taking photos is forbidden!). It can’t be possible!
Newton’s tomb is in the nave against the choir screen. It was sculpted in 1731 by Michael Rysbrack to the designs of the architect William Kent (1685-1748). It’s made of grey and white marble and it supports a sarcophagus with a relief panel:
It is possible to pick out eight little boys playing with different astronomical and scientific instruments as a telescope, a prism or an oven (Newton was also a good alchemist!). In the middle of the picture you can see a representation of the Heliocentric model: the Sun is in the left and is followed by Mercury, Venus, the Earth and the Moon below it, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.
Newton is resting on four of his famous books: Divinity, Chronology, Optiks and the Principia Mathematica. He is pointing to the picture held up by two angels which represents a mathematical scheme and a formula. There is a globe over him with the Zodiacal signs graved on it and an allegory of the Astronomy sitting on the top.
A beautiful inscription is on the pedestal that holds the sarcophagus:
Here is buried Isaac Newton, Knight, who by a strength of mind almost divine, and mathematical principles peculiarly his own, explored the course and figures of the planets, the paths of the comets, the ideas of the sea, the dissimilarities in rays of light, and, what no other scholar has previously imagined, the properties ofthe colours thus produced. Diligent, sagacious and faithful, in his expositions of nature, antiquity and the Holy Scriptures, he vindicated by his philosophy the majesty of God mighty and good and expressed the simplicity of the Gospel in his manners. Mortals rejoice that there has existed such and so great an ornament of the human race. He was born on 25th December 1642 and died on 20th March 1726.
As the photos are forbidden, I was lucky when I found a guard who allowed me to take the pictures of this post! You must visit it if you go to London! Among all the Kings, Queens, poets,… here you will gaze at one of the most charismatic mathematical monuments in the World!