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Westminster Abbey, London, England

london, england, United Kingdom Benedictine monastic church and a reputed, ancient site of coronation and burial for British monarchs
Christianity

Initially constructed by Henry III in 1245, the Westminster Abbey is a spectacular abbey church representing the Gothic style architecture in the city of Westminster, London, England. Interestingly, it is a renowned site for coronation and burial for English as well as British monarchs. Initially a Benedictine monastic church until the dissolution of monastery in 1539, the Abbey held the status of a cathedral between 1540 and 1556. It was formally given the name ‘Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster’ and is considered one of the most noted buildings and a prominent religious site in the United Kingdom.

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Overview

History and Belief

The Westminster Abbey proudly encompasses over a thousand years of history. It is believed that in the 1040s, King Edward constructed his palace on Thorney Island, along the banks of river Thames. Adjacent to it was a Benedictine monastery founded by King Edgar and St. Dunstan in 960 AD. It is believed that King Edward intended to refurbish this monastery and build a church to honor St Peter the Apostle. The church, which he named as ‘Westminster’ was finally consecrated on December 28, 1065 shortly after which he died.

Benedictine monks are said to have visited this site in the middle of the tenth century and commenced a ritual of worshiping daily, which is prominent at this site even today. 

Present day church was refurbished in the new Gothic architectural style in 1245 under the reign of King Henry III. Traces of the earlier monastery including the curved arches, Pyx chamber and giant columns of the vault can be seen even today. Today, the Abbey boasts of some of the most significant ceremonies of England. These include coronation of William the Conqueror in 1066 on Christmas Day and relocating King Edward’s remains to a new tomb.

The Abbey is the resting place of seventeen monarchs and is counted as one of the most spectacular Gothic architectural marvel in England. Today, all coronations of English and British monarchs take place here along with over 16 royal weddings since 1100, including that of Henry I and Richard II.


Architecture

Located just to the west of the Palace of Westminster, the 700-year-old building of the Abbey witnesses over 1 million tourists every year. The Abbey access is through the West Gate of the North Green, in close proximity to the Broad Sanctuary. The spectacular church reflects Gothic style of architecture and came alive due to the splendid work of art of three skilled masons, Henry of Reyns, John of Gloucester and Robert of Beverly.

The church draws inspiration from the new cathedrals at Reims, Amiens and Chartres. The highlights are an apse with sparkling chapels, pointed arches, ribbed vaulting, rose windows and flying buttresses, bearing close resemblance to the continental system of geometrical proportion. Features like single aisles and a long nave with wide projecting transepts reflect English architecture.  And Today, it boasts of the highest Gothic vault in England which is 102 feet. Further accentuation was done using detailed moldings of the main arches, luxurious and refined Purbeck marble for columns and beautiful décor.

A theatre was made in the space between the high altar and the onset of the quire to facilitate coronations. Stonework was procured from Caen in France and Reigate in Surrey. Wall arcades looked splendid in vermilion and gold and were also adorned with fine paintings of St Thomas and St. Christopher. Windows were filled with sparkling ruby and sapphire glass and covered with heraldic shields. The construction of the apse, chapels, transepts and choir was completed by 1269 bones for the new church were received on October 13.

The church is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and houses the magnificent collection of monumental sculpture in England. It comprises of paintings, stained glass, pavements, textiles and other artefacts and has also served as the burial ground for several eminent personalities.

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5 interesting Facts & Myths about Westminster Abbey, London, England

  • 1. The wedding ceremony of prince William and Kate Middleton took place in the Abbey in 2011.

  • 2. It has been deemed as the Coronation church of England since the crowning of conqueror William in 1066.

  • 3. It is also the burial ground for Charles Dickens, Geoffrey Chaucer, Dr. Samuel Johnson and Charles Darwin.

  • 4. It has 450 tombs and monuments and its walls are scattered with graffiti dating from 1700s to 1800s.

  • 5. Crowning of Queen Elizabeth II and every monarch took place on the chair of King Edward in the Abbey since 1308.

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Programs

Daily programs

Morning prayer begins at 7:30 am on weekdays and at 9:00 am on Saturday and on bank holidays.
Holy Communion begins at 8:00 am and at 12:30 pm (Monday-Friday). Choral Evensong takes place daily at 5:00 pm and at 3:00 pm on Saturdays. Evening prayer takes place on Wednesdays.
The Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Anointing of the Sick are also offered at the Abbey.
Schedule for Sunday:
8.00am Holy Communion (BCP)
10.00am Choral Matins
11.15am Sung Eucharist
3.00pm Choral Evensong
5.45pm Organ Recital
6.30pm Evening Service

These timings are subject to change. For further daily programs and schedules of services, please refer to the website http://www.westminster-abbey.org/home.

Special programs

Bell Ringing takes place by a volunteer group where they ring the bell on special occasions like church festivals, saint days and Abbey anniversaries.
Flag pole flies different flags all through the year for different occasions. Flags include Commonwealth Nations, the Abbey Flag, the Royal Force Flag and Royal Standard.
Special services take place on days like Good Friday (March 30), Easter Day (April 1), Christmas (December 25) and New Years Eve (December 31).

For detailed schedule, refer to special services page of the website http://www.westminster-abbey.org/worship/holy-week-and-easter

Travel

How to travel

Nearest airport is Heathrow International Airport from where one can opt for taxi to the Westminster Abbey. Two major railway stations and two London Underground stations also take you to the Abbey along with the regular red London buses plying daily. Closest underground stations are Westminster (Jubilee, District and Circle Lines) and St. James Park (District and Circle Lines).

National Rail is available from London Victoria and Waterloo stations. There are no parking facilities at the Abbey. However, Q-Park Westminster located on College Street provides parking facility. One can also opt for the London Pass with Oyster Travelcard to reach to the Abbey.

Nearby major cities:

  • Manchester (321.86 km)
  • Birmingham (189.25 km)

Several multi-cuisine restaurants are situated nearby the Abbey. Best time to visit the Abbey is during summers as the weather is pleasant and most suited for travel.

VISITING DAYS/HOURS

Monday to Saturday, 9:30 to 15:30, all through the year.

Entrance Fee

Visiting for prayer or worship incurs no charge. For museum,

Ticket price for adults (including a free audio guide)

Online: £20m

At the abbey: £22

For children:

6 - 16 years - £9
0 - 5 years – Free

Family
2 adults and 1 child £40
2 adults and 2 children - £45

Travel Tips

  1. It is advisable to reach at least 30 minutes prior to closing time as security checks take place before entering the Abbey.
  2. The tour schedule is subject to change so it is advisable to confirm the entry times and detailed services schedule before visiting.
  3. Half-price entry is available on Wednesday evenings. Timings are 4.30pm – 7.00pm, last entry 6.00pm. Ticket for adults: £10, for children, £5.

See Westminster Abbey, London, England on map

Nearby Attraction

  • Big Ben (0.3 miles)

Also known as the Great Bell of the clock, this 96 m tall clock tower is situated at the north end of the palace of Westminster.

  • St. James Park (8.3 miles)

Located at the southernmost tip of the St. James neighborhood, St. James Park is a 23-hectare park in the city of Westminster in Central London.

  • Jewel Tower (0.2 miles)

Built in the 14th century, this 3-storey tower is situated across the road from the Houses of Parliament and was once used to house treasures and wardrobe of King Edward III.

  • Central Hall Westminster (0.1 miles)

Deemed to be the largest conference and event venue in Central London, it was built in 1912 and has witnessed prominent personalities like Price of Wales, Gandhi and Churchill.

  • Westminster Bridge (1.4 miles)

Situated on River Thames between Houses of Parliament and County Hall, the bridge offers a spectacular view from all directions including the London Eye and the Parliament. 

Additional Information

????Concessions
60+ and Students on production of valid student ID - £17 
Wheelchair users and their care takers – Free

Guided Tour Groups of up to 30 visitors can visit the Abbey during normal opening hours but should be accompanied by a Blue Badge Guide.

Blue Badge Guides are specialist guides who offer private tours and will charge a separate fee. You can book a Blue Badge Guide through Guide London or the British Guild of Tourist Guides.

Charges for Guided Tour Groups accompanied by a Blue Badge Guide

Adults - £18

Concessions (60+ and Students on production of valid student ID) - £14

Children 6 - 16 years - £7

Children 0 - 5 years - Free, if accompanied by an adult

  1. The Abbey was considered a cathedral between 1540 and 1556. Since 1560, it has been deemed as a church of England, “Royal Peculiar”.
  2. Dimension of the Abbey: http://www.westminster-abbey.org/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/86076/ABBEY-Dimensions-for-web-.pdf
  3. History:

When Henry III died in 1272 only one bay of the nave beyond the quire screen had been completed. The old Norman nave remained attached to the far higher Gothic building for over a century until more money became available at the end of the fourteenth century. The western section of the nave was then carried on by Abbot Nicholas Litlyngton using money bequeathed by Cardinal Simon Langham (Litlyngton's predecessor as abbot) and work slowly progressed for nearly a hundred and fifty years. It was probably Litlyngton who insisted that the general design of Henry III's masons should be followed thus giving the Abbey great architectural unity. Master mason Henry Yevele made only minor alterations in the architectural design but it can be seen on closer inspection that the diaper (or rosette) decoration on the spandrels of the arches was discontinued in the nave, and other details are not as elaborate as the older work. In the bay of the nave just to the west of the quire screen can be seen the junction of the old and new work.

In 1422 Henry V was buried at the eastern end of St Edward's Chapel. In accordance with his will a lavishly sculptured chantry chapel was built over the tomb, with two turret staircases leading to an altar above. The designer was John Thirske, who was probably also responsible for the carved altar screen in the Confessor's chapel added at this period, showing representations of events in the life of St Edward.

Abbot John Islip, died 1532, added his own Jesus chapel off the north ambulatory and finally completed the nave vaulting and glazed the west window, but the top parts of the west towers remained unfinished.

The next great addition to the Abbey was the construction of a magnificent new Lady Chapel by Henry VII between 1503 and 1519 to replace the 13th century chapel. This was consecrated on 19 February 1516. The Perpendicular architecture here is in total contrast to the rest of the Abbey. No accounts for this building have been found but it is thought that the architects were Robert Janyns and William Vertue. It has been called "one of the most perfect buildings ever erected in England" and "the wonder of the world". Henry spent lavish sums on its decoration. The glory of the chapel is its delicately carved fan vaulted roof, with hanging pendants. These are constructed on half-concealed transverse arches. All around the chapel are Tudor emblems such as the rose and portcullis, and nearly one hundred statues of saints still remain in niches around the walls. Wooden carved misericords can be seen on the stall seats. The original jewel-like stained glass by Bernard Flower has, however, disappeared.

The last phase of building of the Abbey was the completion in 1745 of the West Towers in Portland stone, to a design by Nicholas Hawksmoor, the Abbey's Surveyor. John James, his successor as Surveyor, finished the work.

(Both Wren, William Dickinson and Hawksmoor had put forward various designs for a central tower, dome or spire on top of the lantern roof but this was never done. There had been one on the Norman church (as shown in the Bayeux Tapestry) and a small one on the medieval church as shown in Abbot Islip's mortuary roll. There are two oil paintings in the Abbey collection depicting the proposed central tower. Wren's wooden model for a tower and spire will be on display in the new Jubilee Galleries).

The newest addition to the fabric will be an exterior turret with lift (designed by Ptolemy Dean) near the Chapter House, to the new triforium galleries exhibition, due to open in mid 2018.

 

  1. The exhibits included a unique collection of royal and other funeral effigies (funeral saddle, helm and shield of Henry V), together with other treasures, including some panels of medieval glass, 12th-century sculpture fragments, Mary II's coronation chair and replicas of the coronation regalia. There also were effigies of Edward IIIHenry VII and his queen, Elizabeth ICharles IIWilliam IIIMary II and Queen Anne.

Later wax effigies included a likeness of Horatio, Viscount Nelson, wearing some of his own clothes and another of Prime Minister William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, modelled by the American-born sculptor Patience Wright.[citation needed] During recent conservation of Elizabeth I's effigy a unique corset dating from 1603 was found on the figure, which was displayed separately.[citation needed]

A recent addition to the display was the late 13th-century Westminster Retable, England's oldest altarpiece, which was most probably designed for the High Altar of the Abbey. Although damaged in past centuries, the panel has been expertly cleaned and conserved.

This Museum has now closed, and will re-open in 2018 in the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Galleries, high up in the triforium of the main Abbey building.

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