Since the 13th century, Westminster Abbey has been the burial place of Britain’s monarchs and the setting for many coronations and royal weddings. It is one of the most beautiful buildings in London, with an exceptionally diverse array of architectural styles, ranging from the austere French Gothic of the nave to the astonishing complexity of the Lady Chapel. Half national church, half national museum, the abbey’s aisles and transepts are crammed with an extraordinary collection of tombs and monuments honoring some of Britain’s greatest public figures, from politicians to poets.
FAMOUS TOMBS AND MONUMENTS
Many sovereigns and their consorts are buried in Westminster Abbey. Some tombs are deliberately plain, while others are lavishly decorated. The shrine of the Saxon king Edward the Confessor and various tombs of medieval monarchs are located at the heart of the abbey (St. Edward’s Chapel). The Grave of Unknown Warrior in the nave commemorates those killed in World War I who had no formal resting place. One unnamed solider is buried here. Monuments to a number of Britain’s greatest public figures crowd the aisles. Memorials to literary giants such as Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Dickens can be found in the South Transept Poets’ Corner).
THE LADY CHAPEL
Work on the chapel began in 1503, on the orders of King Henry VII. It was intended to enshire Herny VI, but it was Henry VII himself who was finally laid to rest here in an elaborate tomb. The highlight of this chapel, completed in 1519, is the vaulted roof, a glorious example of Perpendicular architecture. The undersides of the choir stalls (1512) are beautifully carved with exotic and fantastic creatures. The chapel contains the fine tomb of Elizabeth I, who reigned 1558-1603, and that of her half-sister, Mary I, who ruled 1553-8.
THE CORONATION CEREMONY
Every monarch since William the Conqueror, expect Edward V and Edward VII, has been crowned in Westminster Abbey. Many elements in this solemn and mystical ceremony date from the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042-66). The king or queen proceeds to the abbey, accompanied by some of the crowns, scepters, orbs, and swords that form the royal regalia. The jeweled State Sword, one of the most valuable swords in the world, represents the monarch’s own sword. He or she is anointed with holy oil, to signify divine approval, and invested with ornaments and royal robes. The climax of the ceremony is when St. Edward’s Crown is placed on the sovereign’s head; there is a cry of “God Save the King” (or Queen), the trumpets sound, and guns at the Tower of London are fired.
The three chapels on the eastern side of this transept contain some of the abbey’s finest monuments.
The main entrance’s mock-medieval stonework is Victorian.
Built by Henry III, this has been the site of 38 coronations.
Many great poets are honored here, including Shakespeare, Chaucer, and T.S. Eliot.
This beautiful octagonal rooms, remarkable for its 13th – century tiled floor, is lit by six huge stained-glass windows showing scenes from the abbey’s history.
Unique wood, plaster, and wax effigies of monarch are some of the treasures exhibited here.
In medieval times, coinage was kept here before being tested for purity.
ST Edward’s Chapel
The Coronation Chair can be seen here before being tested for purity.
Built mainly in the 13th and 14th centuries, the cloisters link the abbey church with the other buildings.
The abbey’s enormous flying buttresses help to redistribute the great weight of have’s soaring roof.
At a height of 102 ft (31m), the nave is the highest in England. The ratio of height to width is 3:1.
The coronation ceremony is over 1,000 years old. The last occupant of the Coronation Chair was the present queen, Elizabeth II. She was crowned on June 2, 1953, by the Archbishop of Canterbury in the first televised coronation.
1065: Edward the Confessor founds the original abbey, which becomes the coronation church.
1245: Henry III demolishes the old abbey and begins work on Westminster Abbey as seen today.
1503: Work commences on the construction of the stunning Lady Chapel.
1745: The west towers, encased in Portland stone, are completed.
1953: Queen Elizabeth I’s coronation is the most watched in the abbey’s history.