On December 31st 2010, I decided to visit the Abbey as part of my London Pass access. This was my 2nd visit to the Abbey, and I had forgotten how very beautiful the interior is. Stepping into the interior of the abbey is like stepping into another world, a world of a hushed vibrancy yet electric atmosphere.
Nothing can prepare you for a visit to Westminster Abbey; designed in the shape of a cross, the abbey is a vision of loveliness that will leave you over-awed and over-whelmed to jaw-dropping effect at the sheer magnificence of the building; both the exterior and the interior, a truly fabulous example of medieval architecture.
The first abbey was founded here in 620, a Benedictine monastery built by the Saxon’s on what was then an island in the Thames; Thorney Island.
Edward the Confessor pulled down the Saxon church and rebuilt the abbey between 1050 and 1065, he lived just long enough to see the church dedicated on December 28th, 1065 and 10 days later was buried within it’s confines.
In 1163, Edward the Confessor was cannonised and Henry III decided to rebuild the Abbey in honour of his memory, this is the church in grand style we see today.
Built in homage to St Peter, Westminster Abbey, or more correctly, the Collegiate Church of St Peter, a total length of 162m (530ft)Westminster Abbey is the largest church in Britain with the nave at 31m (103ft) high, the loftiest in Britain.
The Chapter House, where the House of Commons met from 1257, was completed in 1259 and has the finest medieval tiled floor in England, which can still be seen today as well as wall-paintings that have survived mostly intact. As you leave the Chapter House, just on the left-hand side is the oldest door in England.
The massive nave was finished in the 14th Century by Abbot Nicholas Littlington.
At the start of the 16th Century, Henry VII’s Chapel was built, the intricately carved, vaulting and supreme fan ceiling of which has been likened to a cobweb, is incredibly beautiful.
The west towers were completed in 1745, designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor and a good 400 years younger than the rest of the building.
In front of the High Altar is the wonderful Cosmati floor mosaic, constructed in the 13th Century by Italian craftsmen. It is often covered by a carpet to protect it and you may not walk on the tiles.
The cloisters are well worth a visit just to look at the memorials on the walls
and of course for a visit to Chapter House, the Pyx Chamber
and the Abbey Museum where you can see some of the most realistic images of previous Kings and Queens, dressed in costumes of the period as well as some fantastic treasures of the Abbey.
A brief history of the Abbey:
c960: First Benedictine monks settle at Thorney Island, later to become Westminster.
1065: December 28th, Edward the Confessor’s Abbey is dedicated.
1066: The first recorded Coronation in the Abbey of William the Conqueror
1245: Henry III begins building the present church
1301: Coronation Chair made, this has been used at every Coronation since 1308
1400: Geoffrey Chaucer buried in the south transept
1503: Henry VII begins construction of the Lady Chapel
1540: Dissolution of the monastery by Henry VIII
1560: Elizabeth establishes the Abbey as a collegiate church
1745: West Towers completed
1920: Unknown Warrior buried in the nave.
1953: Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II
1997: Funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales
2002: Funeral of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother
2011: April 29th the wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton will be performed at the Abbey.
The Abbey has been the nation’s Coronation Church since the crowning of William the Conqueror except for 2 (Edward V who was murdered in the Tower before his Coronation and Edward VIII who abdicated before his) and the site of more or less every royal burial for Kings and Queens between Henry III and George II, as well as many famous historical figures for the last thousand years of British history.
The interior of the building is magnificent, eye-wateringly beautiful and filled with hundreds of reliefs, monuments, memorials and statues; more than any other church in Britain.
The most poignant of them all lies at the West Door – Tomb of the Unknown Warrior.
Poet’s Corner is the final resting place of people like Geoffrey Chaucer, Shakespeare, Ben Johnson, David Garrick, Sir Henry Irving, Joshua Hanway (the first man in England to carry an umbrella, founder of the Marine Society) and Thomas Parr (England’s oldest man) a Shropshire framer who lived from 1485-1635, and died when he came to London to see the King. Also buried in the Abbey is David Livingston.
The Abbey’s greatest treasure is the St Edward’s Chair, aka the Coronation Chair, made in 1300 for Edward I and on which every monarch has sat during the moment of crowning. Originally designed to encase the Stone of Scone, which Edward had captured from Scotland in 1296. The stone was returned to Scotland in 1996 by John Major (the Prime Minister at the time).
Westminster Abbey is a must visit on any 3 Days in London; give yourself at least 2.5 – 3 hours for this visit if you possibly can as it is well worth the time. The Abbey is one of London’s most visited attractions and can be very busy so get there really early as the queues can be very long. The audioguides are free, included in the entrance price and well worth the effort of carrying it around stuck to your ear as it gives you so much information that you would miss if not using.
Nearest tube station is Westminster on the Jubilee and District and Circle lines.
To be seen in the same area:
The Houses of Parliament
The Jewel Tower
St Margaret’s Church (in the grounds of Westminster Abbey)
The Supreme Court
and over the Bridge is the London Eye