Westminster Abbey, London

Westminster Abbey, London  and Big Ben

Westminster Palace became a World Heritage Site in 1987. Its proper name is The Collegiate Church of St Peter, Westminster, but it is almost always referred to as Westminster Abbey. A mainly Gothic church, on the scale of a cathedral, in Westminster, London, beside the Palace of Westminster. Traditionally kings and queens are crowned here, and buried here. It is neither a cathedral nor a parish church, Westminster Abbey is a “Royal Peculiar” under the jurisdiction of a Dean and Chapter, subject only to the Sovereign.

A shrine was is believed to have been sited in 616 on the present site, then known as Thorney Island, after a fisherman on the River Thames saw a vision of Saint Peter. And there was a community of Benedictine monks before the first historic Abbey was built by King Edward the Confessor around 1045–1050. Apparently King Edward failed to keep a vow to go on a pilgrimage; the Pope agreed that he could redeem himself by building a church to St. Peter. It was consecrated on December 28, 1065, just after King Edward died and the coronation of his successor King Harold. This church was called the “west minster” to distinguish it from St Paul’s Cathedral (the "east minster") in the City of London.

The Abbot and monks became a powerful political force in the centuries after the Norman Conquest: the Abbot enjoyed a seat in the in the House of Lords as of right. Henry III rebuilt the Abbey in the Gothic style. The work continued between 1245-1517 and was largely finished by the architect Henry Yevele in the reign of King Richard II.

Henry VII added a Perpendicular style chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary in 1503. This "Lady Chapel" has a wonderful fan-vaulted roof and the work of Italian sculptor Torrigiano can be seen in Henry VII's tomb. The banners of the Knights of the Order of the Bath, surround the walls, and there is a striking Battle of Britain window by Hugh Easton at the east end.

The Abbey was then seized by Henry VIII in 1534 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and closed in 1540, its royal connections saved it from the destruction suffered by most other English abbeys.

The Catholic Queen Mary was restored the abbey to the Benedictines, Queen Elizabeth I removed them in 1559. In 1579, Elizabeth re-established Westminster as a "Royal Peculiar" — a church responsible directly to the sovereign, rather than to a diocesan bishop, and made it the Collegiate Church of St Peter.

It suffered damage during the 1640s, when it was attacked by Puritans, but was again protected by its ties to the state during the Commonwealth period. Oliver Cromwell was given an state funeral there in 1658, but disinterred in January 1661 and posthumously hanged from a nearby gibbet. His head remaining there for many years

The abbey's two western towers were built between 1722 and 1745 by Nicholas Hawksmoor. They were made from Portland stone, and were an early example of Gothic Revival design. The western towers had been unfinished from medieval times.

Little remains of the original medieval stained glass. The great west window and the rose window in the north transept date from the early 18th century but the remainder of the stained glass dates from the 19th century onwards. Further rebuilding occurred in the 19th century under Sir George Gilbert Scott.

Until the 19th century, Westminster was the third seat of learning in England, after Oxford and Cambridge. The first third of the King James Bible Old Testament and the last half of the New Testament were translated were translated here. The New English Bible was produced here in the 20th century.

Canaletto painting of Westminster Abbey


Since 1066 all English kings and queens (except Lady Jane Grey, Edward V and Edward VIII, who did not have coronations) have been crowned in the Abbey. The Archbishop of Canterbury conducts the coronation ceremony. The new king or queen sits on St Edward's Chair in order to be crowned.

Although most kings and queens from the Middle Ages were buried here, Henry VIII and Charles I are buried at St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, and all monarchs since George II have been buried at Windsor.

In 2005 the original ancient burial tomb of Edward the Confessor was discovered, in front of the High Altar. A series of royal tombs dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries was also discovered using ground-penetrating radar.

Aristocrats were buried in side chapels and clergy were buried in the Cloisters. Geoffrey Chaucer was buried here as he was employed as master of the Kings Works. Other poets were then buried around Chaucer in what became known as Poets' Corner. Abbey musicians such as Henry Purcell were also buried here. Subsequently it became an honour to be buried or memorialised here. Aristocrats and poets, military, politicians, scientists, doctors. The Abbey has around 600 monuments and tablets, and over three thousand people are buried here. They include the Unknown Warrior, whose grave, close to the west door, is a national monument to the fallen in war.

Westminster Abbey, north entrance

Notable people buried here. Wikipedia records this list


* Clement Attlee, 1st Earl Attlee
* Angela Georgina Burdett-Coutts
* Charles Darwin
* James Clerk Maxwell
* J.J. Thomson
* Saint Edward the Confessor
* Ben Jonson
* David Livingstone
* Sir Isaac Newton
* Ernest Rutherford, 1st Baron Rutherford
* William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin
* The Unknown Warrior
* George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham
* Ludovic Stewart, 2nd Duke of Lennox
* Thomas Tompion
* George Graham

North Transept

* William Ewart Gladstone
* William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham
* William Pitt the Younger

Poets' Corner

* Robert Adam
* Robert Browning
* William Camden
* Thomas Campbell
* Geoffrey Chaucer
* William Congreve
* Abraham Cowley
* William Davenant
* Charles Dickens
* John Dryden
* Adam Fox
* David Garrick
* John Gay
* George Frederick Handel
* Thomas Hardy
* Dr Samuel Johnson
* Rudyard Kipling
* Thomas Macaulay
* John Masefield
* Laurence Olivier, Baron Olivier
* Thomas Parr
* Dante Rossetti
* Richard Brinsley Sheridan
* Edmund Spenser
* Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson


* Aphra Behn

North Choir Aisle

* Henry Purcell
* Ralph Vaughan Williams


* William Shakespeare, buried at Stratford-upon-Avon
* Sir Winston Churchill, buried at Bladon, Oxfordshire
* Sir Roland Hill (in the Chapel of St. Paul), buried in Highgate Cemetery, London
* Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield, buried at Hughenden Manor, Buckinghamshire
* Adam Lindsay Gordon, buried in Australia
* Paul Dirac, buried in Florida
* Oscar Wilde (in a stained glass window unveiled in 1995), buried in Paris [1]
* Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, buried at Cambridge, Massachusetts
* Ten 20th-century Christian martyrs from across the world are depicted in statues above the Great West Door. Unveiled in 1998, these are, from left to right:
o St. Maximilian Kolbe
o Manche Masemola
o Janani Luwum
o Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russia
o Martin Luther King, Jr.
o Óscar Romero
o Dietrich Bonhoeffer
o Esther John
o Lucian Tapiedi
o Wang Zhiming


The following were buried in the abbey but later removed on the orders of Charles II:

* Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector
* Admiral Robert Blake

In 1965-66 the Abbey celebrated its 900th anniversary, using as its theme ‘One People’, fitting for a church which, through its long history has been involved with the life and government of the British people.

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey - Wikipedia


World Heritage Sites in Britain