Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

Westminster has a rich and detailed history and is perhaps one of the most well known and most beautiful Abbey’s in England. It has played a huge part in English history throughout the centuries and some of England’s most famous Kings, Queens and people lay forever within the magnificent tombs contained within this incredible Abbey. 

Entrance and Rose Window designed by Sir James Thornhill and installed in 1722. 
(Photo by me).

Westminster Abbey, or as it is officially called since 1560 ‘The Collegiate Church of St. Peter, Westminster’, is more than a thousand years old. In 960 AD the Bishop of London and twelve monks created a small church in which to come together and worship. This small church was to be known as Thorney Island as it was built along the banks of the Thames which at the time was a very isolated and marshy area. 

During the reign of King Edward the monks were given extra land and the King and monks began to build a stone church. The church was dedicated in December 1065 and became known as West Minster. It was named such to distinguish this church from St Paul’s Cathedral which was then known was East Minster. Unfortunately nothing remains of this stone church except for some of its foundations which rest below the present day Abbey. 

King Edward died in 1066 and was buried within Westminster church.  Almost a hundred years later Edward was canonised and was given the title of St Edward the Confessor. Due to this Westminster Church quickly became a place of pilgrimage. 

The Abbey that we can see today was mostly build by King Henry III between 1245 and 1272. It was the King’s intention to build a new and marvellous place to celebrate and worship St Edward the Confessor. The Abbey was build using French and English design. More work was done on the Abbey, focusing on rebuilding the nave during 1376 to 1498. 

King Henry VII continued work on Westminster Abbey and in 1503 oversaw work on the building of the Lady Chapel, otherwise known as King Henry VII’s Chapel. It is within this beautiful chapel, in a large and stunning tomb, that Henry VII and his wife Elizabeth of York are buried. Also within this chapel lays the tombs of Henry VII’s granddaughters, Elizabeth I and Mary I, buried together on the north side of the chapel. The Tudor monarchs certainly left their mark upon this magnificent chapel as it is littered with the emblem of the Tudor rose. 

Westminster survived King Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries and Reformation. Although officially being dissolved in 1540 clergy continued to worship within the walls of the Abbey and in 1560 Queen Elizabeth I re founded the Abbey as a collegiate church. 

The Abbey faced another upheaval during the English Civil War and rule of Thomas Cromwell. The clergy were removed from the church until the monarchy was restored in England and worship began once more in 1660. 

Due to the connection between the church and the monarchy over the centuries Westminster Abbey grew to become one of the most magnificent and wealthiest monasteries within England. Westminster Abbey would also continue to be closely linked with the monarchy as many King’s and Queen’s lay at rest within the walls of the Abbey including Henry III, Eleanor of Castile, Henry V, Edward III, Richard II, Anne of Bohemia, King Henry VII and his wife Elizabeth of York. Their granddaughters Elizabeth I and Mary I; as well James I, Charles II, William and Mary, Queen Anne and George II. Other notable figures buried within Westminster are Mary Queen of Scots, Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox and Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond, mother of Henry VII. It is estimated that there are around six hundred tombs within the Abbey and perhaps around three thousand people buried within the Abbey’s walls. 

Also within the Abbey is the famous Coronation Chair which was first used in 1308 by Edward II. This chair holds a great deal of importance to the British monarchy as Kings and Queens have sat upon the same chair for their coronations for hundreds of years. 

Also at Westminster Abbey are the cloisters which were part of monastery life where monks went about their daily tasks, chores and also lived and slept. 

The Grave of the Unknown Warrior also lies within the nave of Westminster Abbey. The body of an unknown soldier was brought back to England during the First World War. The soldier lies within the magnificent church, amongst great Kings, Queens and important people as a reminder of all those whom gave their lives for England. 

I struggle to find the words to even begin to describe Westminster Abby. It is so much more impressive and spectacular than I could ever have imagined. I actually thought it was first and foremost a church with several tombs inside, but really it is an ancient and magnificent piece of English history. There are hundreds of people buried throughout different parts of the church with dedications and tombs to these people in every place you look.

The building itself is absolutely stunning! My breath was taken away the moment I looked upon the Abbey and I think my heart skipped several beats when I entered the church. Unfortunately you are not allowed to take photos inside the church, which is a complete shame because I probably would have taken a thousand photos - the architecture is just that spectacular. 

I decided to take the audio tour of the Abby which was incredibly interesting. The Abby itself is hundreds upon hundreds of years old dating back to the 10th century. It’s actually quite a spooky place, tombs and monuments to dead King’s and Queen’s and people of noble birth in every place that you looked. There are so many interesting things to look at and explore.

My favourite part of the entire Abby was the Lady Chapel built by Henry VII. This part of the Abbey is rich with Tudor history and everywhere you look you can see the signs of the Tudors. There are Tudor roses and Fleur de Lis’ everywhere. The place has a beautiful majestic reverence about it and it is quite humbling.

Queen Elizabeth I and her sister Mary I are also buried together in this part of the Abbey. There is a beautiful inscription on their tomb which says, “partners both in thrown and grave, here rest we two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary, in the hope of one Resurrection.” These words made me very teary, considering how different their religious beliefs were it was very touching that Elizabeth was buried with her sister. They came from such a troubled, traumatic childhood, mothers who hated each other, Anne Boleyn whom despised Mary, Elizabeth daughter of Anne. It was a very touching inscription and very moving that both sisters rest together for eternity.

Mary Queen of Scots is also buried in the Lady Chapel on the opposite side to where Elizabeth I and Mary I rest. Her monument is just as magnificent as the two sisters and is quite humbling. It showed the love that Mary’s son, James VI and I had for her.

Henry VII and his wife Elizabeth of York are also buried in the Lady Chapel. Their tomb is a magnificent bronze monument which is the centrepiece of the chapel. Apparently the likenesses of Henry VII and Elizabeth are very close to what the King and Queen actually looked like and they are very spooky to look upon. It is certainly an experience to stand next to the tombs of some of the most well-known and remarkable Kings and Queens of English history.

I was also awed to see the Coronation Chair which has been used in the coronation of every King and Queen since 1308. It was really quite humbling to see such a chair of importance and to know how many royal and important figures sat upon that chair. Of course I thought of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, and of course Anne Boleyn – three amazing figures in history. Again being so close to something of such rich Tudor history sent chills down my spine. 

I also wept when I stood by the grave of the Unknown Soldier. There is just something about the black slab and deep red poppies that really brings about the true meaning of humanity. This man stands for all those that fought and gave their lives, not only for England but for all those that fought. I could not help but think of my home country Australia and all the men that gave so freely of their lives for my freedom. I lit a candle in remembrance and thanks.

I am really glad that I went to Westminster Abbey. It is a place of holy reverence that really humbles a person. Not just the spectacular tombs and the knowledge that so many important Kings and Queens and other people of noble birth are buried here – but also the architecture is just breathtaking. Magnificent high ceilings so intricately detailed, breathtaking stained glass windows, carved railings and walls – it is all so stunning!

The West Towers completed in 1745. (Photo by me).

Side of the left West Tower. (Photo by me).

Entrance, side of the Nave and West Towers. (Photo by me).

The offical website for Westminster Abbey can be found by clicking on the following link. I do suggest having a look as it is a very interesting website: 

All photos are taken by me please do not copy or redistribute without permission.


Trowels, T 2007, Westminster Abbey A Short Tour, Scala Publishers, Northburgh House, London.

The Dean and Chapter of Westminster 2011, ‘Westminster Abbey Founded 960’, viewed 3rd March 2012, Available from Internet; http://www.westminster-abbey.org/


Bridgett said...

Loved it, I get the coronation chair first ! lol

Libby said...

Westminster is the first place I'll be visiting when I (someday) travel to London. Great article and stunning photos, Sarah!

Melissa said...

Thank you so much for such a great post about one of my favorite landmarks in one of my favorite cities! Your blog is always so much fun for me to read, your passion for your topic(s) always shows!

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