Westminster Abbey

Last updated

Westminster Abbey
Collegiate Church of Saint Peter at Westminster
Western façade
Location Dean's Yard,
London, SW1
Denomination Church of England
Previous denomination Roman Catholic
Website www.westminster-abbey.org OOjs UI icon edit-ltr-progressive.svg
Status Collegiate church
Founded960;1059 years ago (960)
Functional statusActive
Architect(s) Surveyor of the Fabric of Westminster Abbey
Architectural typeChurch
Style Gothic
Years built
  • 960
  • 1065 (modern building)
  • 13th century (rebuilt in Gothic style)
  • 1517 (rebuilt)
  • 18th century (towers)
Nave width85 feet (26 m) [1]
Floor area32,000 square feet (3,000 m2) [1]
Number of towers 2
Tower height225 feet (69 m) [1]
Diocese Extra-diocesan (royal peculiar)
Dean John Hall
Canon(s) see Dean and Chapter
Director of music James O'Donnell
(Organist and Master of the Choristers)
Organist(s) Peter Holder
Matthew Jorysz
Organ scholar Alexander Hamilton
Open street map central london.svg
Red pog.svg
Location within Central London
Coordinates 51°29′58″N00°07′39″W / 51.49944°N 0.12750°W / 51.49944; -0.12750 Coordinates: 51°29′58″N00°07′39″W / 51.49944°N 0.12750°W / 51.49944; -0.12750
Founded10th century [2]
Official name: Palace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey and Saint Margaret's Church
Criteriai, ii, iv
Designated1987 (11th session)
Reference no. 426
CountryUnited Kingdom
Region Europe and North America
Listed Building – Grade I
Official name: Westminster Abbey (The Collegiate Church of St Peter)
Designated24 February 1958
Reference no.1291494 [3]

Westminster Abbey, formally titled the Collegiate Church of Saint Peter at Westminster, is a large, mainly Gothic abbey church in the City of Westminster, London, England, just to the west of the Palace of Westminster. It is one of the United Kingdom's most notable religious buildings and the traditional place of coronation and burial site for English and, later, British monarchs. The building itself was a Benedictine monastic church until the monastery was dissolved in 1539. Between 1540 and 1556, the abbey had the status of a cathedral. Since 1560, the building is no longer an abbey or a cathedral, having instead the status of a Church of England "Royal Peculiar"—a church responsible directly to the sovereign.

Gothic architecture Style of architecture

Gothic architecture is a style that flourished in Europe during the High and Late Middle Ages. It evolved from Romanesque architecture and was succeeded by Renaissance architecture. Originating in 12th-century France, it was widely used, especially for cathedrals and churches, until the 16th century.

City of Westminster City and borough in London

The City of Westminster is an Inner London borough that also holds city status. It occupies much of the central area of Greater London including most of the West End. Historically in Middlesex, it is to the west of the ancient City of London, directly to the east of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and its southern boundary is the River Thames. The London borough was created with the 1965 establishment of Greater London. Upon its creation, it inherited the city status previously held by the smaller Metropolitan Borough of Westminster from 1900, which was first awarded to Westminster in 1540.

Palace of Westminster Meeting place of the Parliament of the United Kingdom,

The Palace of Westminster serves as the meeting place of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the two houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Commonly known as the Houses of Parliament after its occupants, the Palace lies on the north bank of the River Thames in the City of Westminster, in central London, England.


According to a tradition first reported by Sulcard in about 1080, a church was founded at the site (then known as Thorn Ey (Thorn Island)) in the seventh century, at the time of Mellitus, a Bishop of London. Construction of the present church began in 1245, on the orders of King Henry III. [4]

Sulcard was a Benedictine monk at St. Peter's, Westminster Abbey, and the author of the first history of the abbey.

Thorney Island (London) former small island in London

Thorney Island was the eyot on the Thames, upstream of medieval London, where Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster were built. It was formed by rivulets of the River Tyburn, which entered the Thames nearby. In Roman times, Thorney Island may have been part of a natural ford where what was later called Watling Street crossed the Thames, of particular importance before the construction of London Bridge.

Mellitus 7th-century missionary, Archbishop of Canterbury, and saint

Mellitus was the first Bishop of London in the Saxon period, the third Archbishop of Canterbury, and a member of the Gregorian mission sent to England to convert the Anglo-Saxons from their native paganism to Christianity. He arrived in 601 AD with a group of clergy sent to augment the mission, and was consecrated as Bishop of London in 604. Mellitus was the recipient of a famous letter from Pope Gregory I known as the Epistola ad Mellitum, preserved in a later work by the medieval chronicler Bede, which suggested the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons be undertaken gradually, integrating pagan rituals and customs. In 610, Mellitus returned to Italy to attend a council of bishops, and returned to England bearing papal letters to some of the missionaries.

Since the coronation of William the Conqueror in 1066, all coronations of English and British monarchs have been in Westminster Abbey. [4] [5] There have been 16 royal weddings at the abbey since 1100. [6] As the burial site of more than 3,300 persons, usually of predominant prominence in British history (including at least sixteen monarchs, eight Prime Ministers, poets laureate, actors, scientists, and military leaders, and the Unknown Warrior), Westminster Abbey is sometimes described as 'Britain's Valhalla', after the iconic burial hall of Norse mythology. [7]

William I, usually known as William the Conqueror and sometimes William the Bastard, was the first Norman King of England, reigning from 1066 until his death in 1087. A descendant of Rollo, he was Duke of Normandy from 1035 onward. After a long struggle to establish his power, by 1060 his hold on Normandy was secure, and he launched the Norman conquest of England six years later. The rest of his life was marked by struggles to consolidate his hold over England and his continental lands and by difficulties with his eldest son.

Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Head of UK Government

The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, until 1801 known as the Prime Minister of Great Britain, is the head of government of the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister directs both the executive and the legislature, and together with their Cabinet are collectively accountable for their policies and actions to the Monarch, to Parliament, to their political party and ultimately to the electorate.

The Unknown Warrior

The British grave of The Unknown Warrior holds an unidentified British soldier killed on a European battlefield during the First World War. He was buried in Westminster Abbey, London on 11 November 1920, simultaneously with a similar interment of a French unknown soldier at the Arc de Triomphe in France, making both graves the first to honour the unknown dead of the First World War. It is the first example of a tomb of the Unknown Soldier.


A late tradition claims that Aldrich, a young fisherman on the River Thames, had a vision of Saint Peter near the site. This seems to have been quoted as the origin of the salmon that Thames fishermen offered to the abbey in later years – a custom still observed annually by the Fishmongers' Company. The recorded origins of the Abbey date to the 960s or early 970s, when Saint Dunstan and King Edgar installed a community of Benedictine monks on the site. [8]

River Thames river in southern England

The River Thames, known alternatively in parts as the Isis, is a river that flows through southern England including London. At 215 miles (346 km), it is the longest river entirely in England and the second longest in the United Kingdom, after the River Severn.

Vision (spirituality) something seen in a dream, trance, or religious ecstasy

A vision is something seen in a dream, trance, or religious ecstasy, especially a supernatural appearance that usually conveys a revelation. Visions generally have more clarity than dreams, but traditionally fewer psychological connotations. Visions are known to emerge from spiritual traditions and could provide a lens into human nature and reality. Prophecy is often associated with visions.

Saint Peter apostle and first pope

Saint Peter, also known as Simon Peter, Simeon, Simon, Sham'un al-Safa, Cephas, or Peter the Apostle, was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ, and the first leader of the early Church.

1042: Edward the Confessor starts rebuilding St Peter's Abbey

St Peter's Abbey at the time of Edward's funeral, depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry BayeuxTapestryScene26.jpg
St Peter's Abbey at the time of Edward's funeral, depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry

Between 1042 and 1052, King Edward the Confessor began rebuilding St Peter's Abbey to provide himself with a royal burial church. It was the first church in England built in the Romanesque style. The building was completed around 1060 and was consecrated on 28 December 1065, only a week before Edward's death on 5 January 1066. [9] A week later, he was buried in the church; and, nine years later, his wife Edith was buried alongside him. [10] His successor, Harold II, was probably crowned in the abbey, although the first documented coronation is that of William the Conqueror later the same year. [11]

Edward the Confessor 11th-century Anglo-Saxon King of England and saint

Edward the Confessor, also known as Saint Edward the Confessor, was among the last Anglo-Saxon kings of England. Usually considered the last king of the House of Wessex, he ruled from 1042 to 1066.

Romanesque architecture architectural style of Medieval Europe

Romanesque architecture is an architectural style of medieval Europe characterized by semi-circular arches. There is no consensus for the beginning date of the Romanesque style, with proposals ranging from the 6th to the 11th century, this later date being the most commonly held. In the 12th century it developed into the Gothic style, marked by pointed arches. Examples of Romanesque architecture can be found across the continent, making it the first pan-European architectural style since Imperial Roman architecture. The Romanesque style in England is traditionally referred to as Norman architecture.

Edith of Wessex Queen Consort of England

Edith of Wessex was a Queen of England. Her husband was Edward the Confessor, whom she married on 23 January 1045. Unlike most English queens in the 10th and 11th centuries, she was crowned. The principal source on her life is a work she herself commissioned, the Vita Ædwardi Regis or the Life of King Edward who rests at Westminster, which is inevitably biased.

The only extant depiction of Edward's abbey, together with the adjacent Palace of Westminster, is in the Bayeux Tapestry. Some of the lower parts of the monastic dormitory, an extension of the South Transept, survive in the Norman Undercroft of the Great School, including a door said to come from the previous Saxon abbey. Increased endowments supported a community increased from a dozen monks in Dunstan's original foundation, up to a maximum about eighty monks. [12]

Bayeux Tapestry Embroidery depicting the Norman invasion of England in 1066

The Bayeux Tapestry is an embroidered cloth nearly 70 metres (230 ft) long and 50 centimetres (20 in) tall, which depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England concerning William, Duke of Normandy, and Harold, Earl of Wessex, later King of England, and culminating in the Battle of Hastings. It is thought to date to the 11th century, within a few years after the battle. It tells the story from the point of view of the conquering Normans, but is now agreed to have been made in England.

Anglo-Saxons Germanic tribes who started to inhabit parts of Great Britain from the 5th century onwards

The Anglo-Saxons were a cultural group who inhabited Great Britain from the 5th century. They comprise people from Germanic tribes who migrated to the island from continental Europe, their descendants, and indigenous British groups who adopted many aspects of Anglo-Saxon culture and language; the cultural foundations laid by the Anglo-Saxons are the foundation of the modern English legal system and of many aspects of English society; the modern English language owes over half its words – including the most common words of everyday speech – to the language of the Anglo-Saxons. Historically, the Anglo-Saxon period denotes the period in Britain between about 450 and 1066, after their initial settlement and up until the Norman conquest. The early Anglo-Saxon period includes the creation of an English nation, with many of the aspects that survive today, including regional government of shires and hundreds. During this period, Christianity was established and there was a flowering of literature and language. Charters and law were also established. The term Anglo-Saxon is popularly used for the language that was spoken and written by the Anglo-Saxons in England and eastern Scotland between at least the mid-5th century and the mid-12th century. In scholarly use, it is more commonly called Old English.

Construction of the present church

Layout plan dated 1894 London westminster 1894.jpg
Layout plan dated 1894

The abbot and monks, in proximity to the royal Palace of Westminster, the seat of government from the later 13th century, became a powerful force in the centuries after the Norman Conquest. The Abbot of Westminster often was employed on royal service and in due course took his place in the House of Lords as of right. Released from the burdens of spiritual leadership, which passed to the reformed Cluniac movement after the mid-10th century, and occupied with the administration of great landed properties, some of which lay far from Westminster, "the Benedictines achieved a remarkable degree of identification with the secular life of their times, and particularly with upper-class life", Barbara Harvey concludes, to the extent that her depiction of daily life provides a wider view of the concerns of the English gentry in the High and Late Middle Ages. [13]

The proximity of the Palace of Westminster did not extend to providing monks or abbots with high royal connections; in social origin the Benedictines of Westminster were as modest as most of the order. The abbot remained Lord of the Manor of Westminster as a town of two to three thousand persons grew around it: as a consumer and employer on a grand scale the monastery helped fuel the town economy, and relations with the town remained unusually cordial, but no enfranchising charter was issued during the Middle Ages. [14]

The abbey became the coronation site of Norman kings. None were buried there until Henry III, intensely devoted to the cult of the Confessor, rebuilt the abbey in Anglo-French Gothic style as a shrine to venerate King Edward the Confessor and as a suitably regal setting for Henry's own tomb, under the highest Gothic nave in England. The Confessor's shrine subsequently played a great part in his canonization. [8]

Construction of the present church began in 1245 by Henry III [15] who selected the site for his burial. [16] The first building stage included the entire eastern end, the transepts, and the easternmost bay of the nave. The Lady chapel built from around 1220 at the extreme eastern end was incorporated into the chevet of the new building, but was later replaced. This work must have been largely completed by 1258–60, when the second stage was begun. This carried the nave on an additional five bays, bringing it to one bay beyond the ritual choir. Here construction stopped in about 1269, a consecration ceremony being held on 13 October of that year, [17] and because of Henry's death did not resume. The old Romanesque nave remained attached to the new building for over a century, until it was pulled down in the late 14th century and rebuilt from 1376, closely following the original (and by now outdated) design. [18] Construction was largely finished by the architect Henry Yevele in the reign of Richard II. [19]

North entrance of Westminster Abbey WestminsterNorth55.jpg
North entrance of Westminster Abbey

Henry III also commissioned the unique Cosmati pavement in front of the High Altar (the pavement has recently undergone a major cleaning and conservation programme and was re-dedicated by the Dean at a service on 21 May 2010). [20]

Henry VII added a Perpendicular style chapel dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1503 (known as the Henry VII Chapel or the "Lady Chapel"). Much of the stone came from Caen, in France (Caen stone), the Isle of Portland (Portland stone) and the Loire Valley region of France (tuffeau limestone). [21] The chapel was finished circa 1519. [18]

16th and 17th centuries: dissolution and restoration

In 1535, the abbey's annual income of £3,000 (equivalent to £1,800,000 as of 2018), [22] during the assessment attendant on the Dissolution of the Monasteries. [23]

1540–1550: 10 years as a cathedral

Henry VIII assumed direct royal control in 1539 and granted the abbey the status of a cathedral by charter in 1540, simultaneously issuing letters patent establishing the Diocese of Westminster. By granting the abbey cathedral status, Henry VIII gained an excuse to spare it from the destruction or dissolution which he inflicted on most English abbeys during this period. [24]

After 1550: turbulent times

Westminster diocese was dissolved in 1550, but the abbey was recognised (in 1552, retroactively to 1550) as a second cathedral of the Diocese of London until 1556. [25] [26] [27] The already-old expression "robbing Peter to pay Paul" may have been given a new lease of life when money meant for the abbey, which is dedicated to Saint Peter, was diverted to the treasury of St Paul's Cathedral. [28]

The abbey was restored to the Benedictines under the Catholic Mary I of England, but they were again ejected under Elizabeth I in 1559. In 1560, Elizabeth re-established Westminster as a "Royal Peculiar" – a church of the Church of England responsible directly to the Sovereign, rather than to a diocesan bishop – and made it the Collegiate Church of St Peter (that is, a non-cathedral church with an attached chapter of canons, headed by a dean.) [29]

It suffered damage during the turbulent 1640s, when it was attacked by Puritan iconoclasts, but was again protected by its close ties to the state during the Commonwealth period. Oliver Cromwell was given an elaborate funeral there in 1658, only to be disinterred in January 1661 and posthumously hanged from a gibbet at Tyburn. [30]

1722–1745: Western towers constructed

Westminster Abbey, London - the south transept rose window - stain glass by Ward and Nixon (1844-1848) Westminster Abbey, London - the south transept rose window by Ward and Nixon (1844-1848).png
Westminster Abbey, London - the south transept rose window - stain glass by Ward and Nixon (1844-1848)

The abbey's two western towers were built between 1722 and 1745 by Nicholas Hawksmoor, constructed from Portland stone to an early example of a Gothic Revival design. Purbeck marble was used for the walls and the floors of Westminster Abbey, even though the various tombstones are made of different types of marble. Further rebuilding and restoration occurred in the 19th century under Sir George Gilbert Scott. [31]

A narthex (a portico or entrance hall) for the west front was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens in the mid-20th century but was not built. Images of the abbey prior to the construction of the towers are scarce, though the abbey's official website states that the building had "towers which had been left unfinished in the medieval period". [32]

Second World War

Westminster suffered minor damage during the Blitz on 15 November 1940. Then on May 10/11 1941, the Westminster Abbey precincts and roof were hit by incendiary bombs. All the bombs were extinguished by ARP wardens, except for one bomb which ignited out of reach among the wooden beams and plaster vault of the lantern roof (of 1802) over the North Transept. Flames rapidly spread and burning beams and molten lead began to fall on the wooden stalls, pews and other ecclesiastical fixtures 130 feet below. Despite the falling debris, the staff dragged away as much furniture as possible before withdrawing. Finally the Lantern roof crashed down into the crossing, preventing the fires from spreading further. [33]


The Nave of Westminster Abbey Westminster Abbey Interior.jpg
The Nave of Westminster Abbey

It was at Westminster Abbey that six companies of eminent churchmen led by Lancelot Andrewes, Dean of Westminster, newly translated the Bible into English, so creating the King James Version in the early 17th century. [34] The Joint Committee responsible for assembling the New English Bible also met twice a year at Westminster Abbey in the 1950s and 1960s. [35]

In the 1990s, two icons by the Russian icon painter Sergei Fyodorov were hung in the abbey. [36] In 1997, the abbey, which was then receiving approximately 1.75 million visitors each year, began charging admission fees to visitors. [37]

On 6 September 1997, the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, was held at the abbey. [38] On 17 September 2010, Pope Benedict XVI became the first pope to set foot in the abbey. [39]

In June 2009 the first major building work at the abbey for 250 years was proposed. A corona – a crown-like architectural feature – was suggested to be built around the lantern over the central crossing, replacing an existing pyramidal structure dating from the 1950s. This was part of a wider £23m development of the abbey completed in 2013. [40] [41]

On 4 August 2010 the Dean and Chapter announced that, "[a]fter a considerable amount of preliminary and exploratory work", efforts toward the construction of a corona would not be continued. [42] In 2012, architects Panter Hudspith completed refurbishment of the 14th-century food-store originally used by the abbey's monks, converting it into a restaurant with English oak furniture by Covent Garden-based furniture makers Luke Hughes and Company. This is now the Cellarium Café and Terrace. [43]

On 29 April 2011, the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton occurred at the abbey. [44]

The Queen's Diamond Jubilee Galleries have been created in the medieval triforium of the abbey. This is a display area for the abbey's treasures in the galleries high up around the abbey's nave. A new Gothic access tower with lift was designed by the abbey architect and Surveyor of the Fabric, Ptolemy Dean. The new galleries opened in June 2018. [45] [46]


King Edward's Chair SanktEdvardsstol westminster.jpg
King Edward's Chair

Since the coronation in 1066 of William the Conqueror, every English and British monarch (except Edward V and Edward VIII, who were never crowned) has been crowned in Westminster Abbey. [4] [5] In 1216, Henry III could not be crowned in London when he came to the throne, because the French prince Louis had taken control of the city, and so the king was crowned in Gloucester Cathedral. This coronation was deemed by Pope Honorius III to be improper, and a further coronation was held in Westminster Abbey on 17 May 1220. [47]

King Edward's Chair (or St Edward's Chair), the throne on which English and British sovereigns have been seated at the moment of crowning, is now housed within the Abbey in St George's Chapel near the West Door, and has been used at every coronation since 1308. From 1301 to 1996 (except for a short time in 1950 when the stone was temporarily stolen by Scottish nationalists), the chair also housed the Stone of Scone upon which the kings of Scots are crowned. Although the Stone is now kept in Scotland, in Edinburgh Castle, it is intended that the Stone will be returned to St Edward's Chair for use during future coronation ceremonies. [48]

Royal weddings

The 1382 wedding of Richard II to Anne of Bohemia Richard2 Anna.jpg
The 1382 wedding of Richard II to Anne of Bohemia

Royal weddings have included: [49]

11 November 1100 King Henry I of England Matilda of Scotland
4 January 1243 Richard, Earl of Cornwall (later King of Germany),
brother of King Henry III of England
Sanchia of Provence (the groom's second wife;
sister of Eleanor of Provence, Henry III's queen.)
8 or 9 April 1269 Edmund of Crouchback, 1st Earl of Leicester and Lancaster, son of King Henry IIILady Aveline de Forz
30 April 1290 7th Earl of Gloucester Joan of Acre, daughter of King Edward I
8 July 1290 John II, son of Duke of Brabant Margaret of England, daughter of King Edward I
20 January 1382 King Richard II of England Anne of Bohemia
18 January 1486 King Henry VII of England Elizabeth of York
27 February 1919Captain the Hon. Alexander Ramsay Princess Patricia of Connaught
28 February 1922 Viscount Lascelles Princess Mary, daughter of King George V
26 April 1923 Prince Albert, Duke of York (later King George VI), second son of King George VLady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (later Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother)
29 November 1934 Prince George, Duke of Kent, son of King George V Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark
20 November 1947 Duke of Edinburgh (who was Lt Philip Mountbatten until that morning)Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II), elder daughter of King George VI
6 May 1960 Antony Armstrong-Jones (later Earl of Snowdon) The Princess Margaret, second daughter of King George VI
24 April 1963 Hon. Angus Ogilvy Princess Alexandra of Kent
14 November 1973 Captain Mark Phillips Princess Anne, only daughter of Queen Elizabeth II
23 July 1986 Prince Andrew, Duke of York, second son of Queen Elizabeth IIMiss Sarah Ferguson
29 April 2011 [50] Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, grandson of Queen Elizabeth IIMiss Catherine Middleton

Dean and Chapter

Westminster Abbey is a collegiate church governed by the Dean and Chapter of Westminster, as established by Royal charter of Queen Elizabeth I dated 21 May 1560, [51] which created it as the Collegiate Church of St Peter Westminster, a Royal Peculiar under the personal jurisdiction of the Sovereign. [29] The members of the Chapter are the Dean and four canons residentiary; [52] they are assisted by the Receiver General and Chapter Clerk. [53] One of the canons is also Rector of St Margaret's Church, Westminster, and often also holds the post of Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons. [54] In addition to the Dean and canons, there are at present three full-time minor canons: the precentor, the sacrist and the chaplain. [55] A series of Priests Vicar assist the minor canons. [55]

Burials and memorials

Audio description of the shrine of Edward the Confessor by John Hall
A recumbent effigy on a tomb in Westminster Abbey Tombeau @.jpg
A recumbent effigy on a tomb in Westminster Abbey
The cloister and garth Westminster Abbey cloister.jpg
The cloister and garth

Henry III rebuilt the abbey in honour of a royal saint, Edward the Confessor, whose relics were placed in a shrine in the sanctuary. Henry III himself was interred nearby, as were many of the Plantagenet kings of England, their wives and other relatives. Until the death of George II in 1760, most kings and queens were buried in the abbey, some notable exceptions being Henry VI, Edward IV, Henry VIII and Charles I who are buried in St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle. Other exceptions include Edward II buried at Gloucester Cathedral, John buried at Worcester Cathedral, Henry IV buried at Canterbury Cathedral and Richard III, now buried at Leicester Cathedral, and the de facto queen Lady Jane Grey, buried in the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula in the Tower of London. More recently monarchs have been buried either in St George's Chapel or at Frogmore to the east of Windsor Castle. [56]

From the Middle Ages, aristocrats were buried inside chapels, while monks and other people associated with the abbey were buried in the cloisters and other areas. One of these was Geoffrey Chaucer, who was buried here as he had apartments in the abbey where he was employed as master of the King's Works. Other poets, writers and musicians were buried or memorialised around Chaucer in what became known as Poets' Corner. Abbey musicians such as Henry Purcell were also buried in their place of work. [57]

Subsequently, it became one of Britain's most significant honours to be buried or commemorated in the abbey. [58] The practice of burying national figures in the abbey began under Oliver Cromwell with the burial of Admiral Robert Blake in 1657. [59] The practice spread to include generals, admirals, politicians, doctors and scientists such as Isaac Newton, buried on 4 April 1727, Charles Darwin, buried on 26 April 1882, and Stephen Hawking, buried on 15 June 2018. Another was William Wilberforce who led the movement to abolish slavery in the United Kingdom and the Plantations, buried on 3 August 1833. Wilberforce was buried in the north transept, close to his friend, the former Prime Minister, William Pitt. [60]

During the early 20th century it became increasingly common to bury cremated remains rather than coffins in the abbey. In 1905 the actor Sir Henry Irving was cremated and his ashes buried in Westminster Abbey, thereby becoming the first person ever to be cremated prior to interment at the abbey. [61] The majority of interments at the Abbey are of cremated remains, but some burials still take place – Frances Challen, wife of Sebastian Charles, Canon of Westminster, was buried alongside her husband in the south choir aisle in 2014. [62] Members of the Percy family have a family vault, The Northumberland Vault, in St Nicholas's chapel within the abbey. [63]

In the floor, just inside the great west door, in the centre of the nave, is the tomb of The Unknown Warrior, an unidentified British soldier killed on a European battlefield during the First World War. He was buried in the abbey on 11 November 1920. This grave is the only one in the abbey on which it is forbidden to walk. [64]

At the east end of the Lady Chapel is a memorial chapel to the airmen of the Royal Air Force who were killed in the Second World War. It incorporates a memorial window to the Battle of Britain, which replaces an earlier Tudor stained glass window destroyed in the war. [65]

Funeral procession of Diana, Princess of Wales, at Westminster Diana's funeral.jpg
Funeral procession of Diana, Princess of Wales, at Westminster

On 6 September 1997 the formal, though not "state" funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, was held. It was a royal ceremonial funeral including royal pageantry and Anglican funeral liturgy. A second public service was held on Sunday at the demand of the people. The burial occurred privately later the same day. Diana's former husband, sons, mother, siblings, a close friend, and a clergyman were present. Diana's body was clothed in a black long-sleeved dress designed by Catherine Walker, which she had chosen some weeks before. A set of rosary beads was placed in her hands, a gift she had received from Mother Teresa, who died a day before Diana's funeral. Her grave is on the grounds of her family estate, Althorp, on a private island. [66]

In 1998 ten vacant statue niches on the façade above the Great West Door were filled with representative 20th-century Christian martyrs of various denominations. Those commemorated are Maximilian Kolbe, Manche Masemola, Janani Luwum, Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russia, Martin Luther King Jr., Óscar Romero, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Esther John, Lucian Tapiedi, and Wang Zhiming. [67] [68]

On 9 April 2002 the ceremonial funeral of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother was held in the abbey. She was interred later the same day in the King George VI Memorial Chapel at St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle next to her husband, King George VI, who had died 50 years previously. At the same time, the ashes of the Queen Mother's daughter, Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, who had died on 9 February 2002, were also interred in a private family service. [69]


Westminster School and Westminster Abbey Choir School are also in the precincts of the abbey. The Choir School educates and trains the choirboys who sing for services in the Abbey. [70]


President George W. Bush greets Westminster Abbey Choir Westminster Abbey Choir.jpg
President George W. Bush greets Westminster Abbey Choir

Westminster Abbey is renowned for its choral tradition, and the repertoire of Anglican church music is heard in daily worship, particularly at the service of Choral Evensong. [71] [72]


The organ was built by Harrison & Harrison in 1937, then with four manuals and 84 speaking stops, and was used for the first time at the coronation of King George VI. Some pipework from the previous Hill organ of 1848 was revoiced and incorporated in the new scheme. The two organ cases, designed and built in the late 19th century by John Loughborough Pearson, were re-instated and coloured in 1959. [73]

In 1982 and 1987, Harrison and Harrison enlarged the organ under the direction of the then abbey organist Simon Preston to include an additional Lower Choir Organ and a Bombarde Organ: the current instrument now has five manuals and 109 speaking stops. In 2006, the console of the organ was refurbished by Harrison and Harrison, and space was prepared for two additional 16 ft stops on the Lower Choir Organ and the Bombarde Organ. [73]

The current Organist and Master of the Choristers, James O'Donnell, has been in post since 2000. [74]


The bells at the abbey were overhauled in 1971. The ring is now made up of ten bells, hung for change ringing, cast in 1971, by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, tuned to the notes: F#, E, D, C#, B, A, G, F#, E and D. The Tenor bell in D (588.5 Hz) has a weight of 30 cwt, 1 qtr, 15 lb (3403 lb or 1544 kg). [75]

In addition there are two service bells, cast by Robert Mot, in 1585 and 1598 respectively, a Sanctus bell cast in 1738 by Richard Phelps and Thomas Lester and two unused bells—one cast about 1320, by the successor to R de Wymbish, and a second cast in 1742, by Thomas Lester. [75] The two service bells and the 1320 bell, along with a fourth small silver "dish bell", kept in the refectory, have been noted as being of historical importance by the Church Buildings Council of the Church of England. [76]

Chapter house

The chapter house London - Westminster abbey - chapter house 03.jpg
The chapter house

The chapter house was built concurrently with the east parts of the abbey under Henry III, between about 1245 and 1253. [77] It was restored by Sir George Gilbert Scott in 1872. The entrance is approached from the east cloister walk and includes a double doorway with a large tympanum above. [77]

Inner and outer vestibules lead to the octagonal chapter house, which is of exceptional architectural purity. It is built in a Geometrical Gothic style with an octagonal crypt below. A pier of eight shafts carries the vaulted ceiling. To the sides are blind arcading, remains of 14th-century paintings and numerous stone benches above which are innovatory large 4-light quatre-foiled windows. [77] These are virtually contemporary with the Sainte-Chapelle, Paris. [77]

The chapter house has an original mid-13th-century tiled pavement. A door within the vestibule dates from around 1050 and is believed to be the oldest in England. [78] The exterior includes flying buttresses added in the 14th century and a leaded tent-lantern roof on an iron frame designed by Scott. The Chapter house was originally used in the 13th century by Benedictine monks for daily meetings. It later became a meeting place of the King's Great Council and the Commons, predecessors of Parliament. [79]

The Pyx Chamber formed the undercroft of the monks' dormitory. It dates to the late 11th century and was used as a monastic and royal treasury. The outer walls and circular piers are of 11th-century date, several of the capitals were enriched in the 12th century and the stone altar added in the 13th century. The term pyx refers to the boxwood chest in which coins were held and presented to a jury during the Trial of the Pyx, in which newly minted coins were presented to ensure they conformed to the required standards. [80]

The chapter house and Pyx Chamber at Westminster Abbey are in the guardianship of English Heritage, but under the care and management of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster. [79]


The Westminster Abbey Museum was located in the 11th-century vaulted undercroft beneath the former monks' dormitory in Westminster Abbey. This was one of the oldest areas of the abbey, dating back almost to the foundation of the church by Edward the Confessor in 1065. This space had been used as a museum since 1908 [81] but was closed to the public in June 2018, when it was replaced as a museum by the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Galleries, high up in the Abbey triforium. [45]


London Underground St James's Park Circle roundel1.PNG District roundel1.PNG
Westminster Circle roundel1.PNG District roundel1.PNG Jubilee roundel1.PNG
London River Services Westminster Millennium Pier LRS roundel.svg

See also


  1. 1 2 3 "Dimensions of Westminster Abbey" (PDF). westminster-abbey.org.
  2. Newcomb, Rexford (1997). "Abbey". In Johnston, Bernard (ed.). Collier's Encyclopedia. I A to Ameland (First ed.). New York, NY: P.F. Collier. pp. 8–11.
  3. Historic England. "Details from listed building database (1291494)". National Heritage List for England . Retrieved 9 July 2015.
  4. 1 2 3 "History". Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey. Archived from the original on 3 July 2014. Retrieved 19 April 2008.
  5. 1 2 "Coronations". Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey. Archived from the original on 14 July 2014. Retrieved 19 April 2008. Westminster-abbey.org
  6. "Royal Weddings at Westminster Abbey". Westminster Abbey. Archived from the original on 14 July 2014. Retrieved 29 April 2011.
  7. Castle, Stephen (15 June 2018). "Stephen Hawking Enters 'Britain's Valhalla,' Where Space Is Tight". New York Times. Retrieved 1 January 2019.
  8. 1 2 Page, William (1909). "'Benedictine monks: St Peter's abbey, Westminster', in A History of the County of London: Volume 1, London Within the Bars, Westminster and Southwark,". London. p. 433-457. Retrieved 28 July 2018.
  9. Eric Fernie, in Mortimer ed., Edward the Confessor, pp. 139–143
  10. Pauline Stafford, 'Edith, Edward's Wife and Queen', in Mortimer ed., Edward the Confessor, p. 137
  11. "William I (the Conqueror)". Westminster-abbey.org. 2016. Retrieved 21 July 2016.
  12. Harvey 1993, p. 2
  13. Harvey 1993
  14. Harvey 1993, p. 6 ff.
  15. History – Westminster Abbey. Retrieved 29 April 2011
  16. "Henry III". Westminster-abbey.org. 2016. Retrieved 21 July 2016.
  17. Westminster Abbey (26 September 2014), Welcome to Westminster Abbey , retrieved 30 July 2017
  18. 1 2 "An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in London, Volume 1, Westminster Abbey". London: British History Online. 1924. Retrieved 8 November 2018.
  19. "Yevele, Henry". Web Gallery of Art. Retrieved 8 November 2018.
  20. "Cosmati pavement". Westminster Abbey. Retrieved 16 June 2013.
  21. Allinson, Kenneth (2008). The Architects and Architecture of London. Routledge. p. 31. ISBN   978-0750683371.
  22. UK Retail Price Index inflation figures are based on data from Clark, Gregory (2017). "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved 27 January 2019.
  23. Harvey, Barbara (22 November 2007). "The dissolution and Westminster Abbey". Ampleforth Abbey. Retrieved 28 July 2018.
  24. Dixon, H. Claiborne (1900). "The Abbeys of Great Britain". T. Werner Laurie.
  25. "Abbey History". Westminster-abbey.org. Retrieved 8 January 2017.
  26. Duffy, Eamon & Loades, David (eds.) The Church of Mary Tudor. pp. 79–82. Retrieved 24 July 2014
  27. Knighton, C. S. (ed.). Acts of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster, 1543–1609: Part One. pp. xviii–xx. Retrieved 24 July 2014.
  28. Brewer, Ebenezer Cobham (2001). Wordsworth Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Wordsworth Editions. p. 923. ISBN   978-18-402-2310-1.
  29. 1 2 "England by Diocese". Anglicans online. Retrieved 28 July 2018.
  30. House of Commons (1802). "Journal of the House of Commons: volume 8: 1660–1667". pp. 26–7. Attainder predated to 1 January 1649 (It is 1648 in the document because of old style year)
  31. Gleanings from Westminster Abbey / by George Gilbert Scott, with Appendices Supplying Further Particulars, and Completing the History of the Abbey Buildings, by W. Burges (2nd enlarged ed.). Oxford: John Henry and James Parker. 1863 [1861].
  32. "Nicholas Hawksmoor". Westminster Abbey. Retrieved 28 July 2018.
  33. Thomas, Ronan. "Westminster Abbey". West End at War. Retrieved 28 July 2018.
  34. "HM The Queen attends King James Bible Service". Westminster Abbey. 16 November 2011. Retrieved 28 July 2018.
  35. "Preface to the New English Bible". Bible Research. Retrieved 28 July 2018.
  36. "John Windsor's Guide To Collecting Contemporary Art". The Independent. 10 November 1998. Retrieved 28 April 2011.
  37. "Westminster Abbey now example of how to handle tourists". Episcopal News Service. 6 March 2002. Retrieved 18 September 2017.
  38. "The Funeral Service of Diana, Princess Wales: Order of Service". BBC. 6 September 1997. Retrieved 28 July 2018.
  39. Schjonberg, Mary Frances (17 September 2010). "Benedict becomes first pope to visit Lambeth, Westminster Abbey". Episcopal Life Online. Retrieved 17 September 2010.
  40. "Building work announced for Abbey". BBC News. 28 June 2009. Retrieved 29 June 2009.
  41. Kennedy, Maev (29 June 2009). "Dean lines up new crown shaped roof for Westminster Abbey". theguardian.com. Retrieved 29 June 2009.
  42. "Abbey Development Plan Update". Westminster Abbey. 4 August 2010. Retrieved 7 September 2010.
  43. "Christmas afternoon tea at Cellarium Café and Terrace". Sloan Magazine. Retrieved 28 July 2018.
  44. "Every Gorgeous Photo From Prince William and Kate Middleton's 2011 Royal Wedding". Town and Country Magazine. 27 April 2018. Retrieved 7 November 2018.
  45. Wainwright, Oliver (29 May 2018). "'A gothic space rocket to a secret realm' – Westminster Abbey's new £23m tower". the Guardian. Retrieved 31 May 2018.
  46. "Henry III, Archonotology.org" . Retrieved 21 April 2008.
  47. "The Stone still waiting for its final destiny". BBC. 28 November 2016. Retrieved 8 October 2017.
  48. "HRH Prince William of Wales and Miss Catherine Middleton to Wed at Abbey". Westminster Abbey. Retrieved 25 December 2018.
  49. "Newsbeat – Royal wedding: Prince William and Kate Middleton marry". BBC. 29 April 2011. Retrieved 8 January 2012.
  50. Westminster Abbey and Saint Margaret Westminster Act 1972. London, UK: HMSO. 1972. p. 1.
  51. "John Hall to be Dean of Westminster". Church Times. 2 November 2006. Retrieved 28 July 2018.
  52. "Sir Stephen Lamport". Asian Women of Achievement. Retrieved 28 July 2018.
  53. "Interview: Robert Wright, Sub-dean of Westminster Abbey, Rector of St Margaret's". Church Times. 26 May 2009. Retrieved 28 July 2018.
  54. 1 2 "Royal Appointments". Crockfords Clerical Directory. Retrieved 28 July 2018.
  55. "A look around Frogmore, the Royals' secret garden, which opens to the public this week". The Telegraph. 4 June 2016. Retrieved 28 July 2018.
  56. "Henry Purcell & family". www.westminster-abbey.org. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  57. Dunton, Larkin (1896). The World and Its People. Silver, Burdett. p. 26.
  58. Westminster Abbey Mrs. A. Murray Smith, published 30 August 1904.
  59. "William Wilberforce & family". Westminster-abbey.org. 2016. Retrieved 21 July 2016.
  60. "Woking Crematorium". Internet. The Cremation Society of Great Britain. Retrieved 28 November 2010.
  61. "Sebastian Charles". Internet. The Dean and Chapter of Westminster. Retrieved 19 September 2015.
  62. "Westminster Abbey " Elizabeth, Duchess of Northumberland & Percy family".
  63. "The Tomb of The Unknown Warrior". British Legion. Retrieved 29 August 2016.
  64. "The Royal Air Force Chapel". Official website. Retrieved 8 August 2015.
  65. "Diana Returns Home". BBC News. 1997. Retrieved 21 July 2016.
  66. Heller, Jenny E. (22 September 1998). "Westminster Abbey Elevates 10 Foreigners". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 July 2016.
  67. Streeter, Michael (17 October 1997). "Heritage: Westminster Abbey prepares modern martyrs' corner". The Independent. Retrieved 21 July 2016.
  68. "Queen Mother is laid to rest". BBC News. 10 April 2002.
  69. "Making all the right noises: An Interview with Jonathan Milton, headmaster of the Westminster Abbey Choir School". KCW Today. 15 September 2017. Retrieved 28 July 2018.
  70. "Westminster Abbey : Choral Evensong". choralevensong.org. Retrieved 12 October 2017.
  71. "Choral services". Westminster Abbey. Retrieved 12 October 2017.
  72. 1 2 "N00646". Npor.org.uk. Retrieved 31 July 2012.
  73. "James O'Donnell (conductor)". Hyperion Records. Retrieved 24 April 2011.
  74. 1 2 Westminster—Collegiate Church of S Peter (Westminster Abbey), Dove's Guide for Church Bell Ringers, 25 October 2006. Retrieved 16 October 2008.
  75. "Database of Historically Significant Bells and Bell Frames". Churchcare website. Church of England. 1 April 2008. Archived from the original on 29 July 2010. Retrieved 16 October 2008. search on "Westminster Abbey" for bell details
  76. 1 2 3 4 Scott, Sir George Gilbert (1863). Gleanings from Westminster abbey. pp. 41–43, 56–58.
  77. Historic England. "The Chapter House and Pyx Chamber in the abbey cloisters, Westminster Abbey (1003579)". National Heritage List for England . Retrieved 20 January 2017.
  78. 1 2 "Chapter house and Pyx Chamber". English Heritage. Retrieved 28 July 2018.
  79. "History of the Trial of the Pyx". The Royal Mint. Retrieved 28 July 2018.
  80. Trowles 2008, p. 156

Related Research Articles

Tewkesbury Abbey Church in England

The Abbey Church of St Mary the Virgin, Tewkesbury,, in the English county of Gloucestershire, is a parish church and a former Benedictine monastery. It is one of the finest examples of Norman architecture in Britain, and has probably the largest Romanesque crossing tower in Europe.

Canterbury Cathedral Church in Kent, England

Canterbury Cathedral in Canterbury, Kent, is one of the oldest and most famous Christian structures in England. It forms part of a World Heritage Site. It is the cathedral of the Archbishop of Canterbury, currently Justin Welby, leader of the Church of England and symbolic leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion. Its formal title is the Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of Christ at Canterbury.

Peterborough Cathedral Church in Cambridgeshire, United Kingdom

Peterborough Cathedral, properly the Cathedral Church of St Peter, St Paul and St Andrew – also known as Saint Peter's Cathedral in the United Kingdom – is the seat of the Anglican Bishop of Peterborough, dedicated to Saint Peter, Saint Paul and Saint Andrew, whose statues look down from the three high gables of the famous West Front. Although it was founded in the Anglo-Saxon period, its architecture is mainly Norman, following a rebuilding in the 12th century. With Durham and Ely cathedrals, it is one of the most important 12th-century buildings in England to have remained largely intact, despite extensions and restoration.

Winchester Cathedral Church in Hampshire, United Kingdom

Winchester Cathedral is a cathedral of the Church of England in Winchester, Hampshire, England. It is one of the largest cathedrals in Europe, with the greatest overall length of any Gothic cathedral.

Gloucester Cathedral Church in Gloucestershire, United Kingdom

Gloucester Cathedral, formally the Cathedral Church of St Peter and the Holy and Indivisible Trinity, in Gloucester, England, stands in the north of the city near the River Severn. It originated in 678 or 679 with the foundation of an abbey dedicated to Saint Peter.

St Edwards Crown Part of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom

St Edward's Crown is the centrepiece of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom. Named after Saint Edward the Confessor, it has been traditionally used to crown English and British monarchs at their coronations since the 13th century.

St Margarets, Westminster church in Westminster, London

The Church of St Margaret, Westminster Abbey, in the grounds of Westminster Abbey on Parliament Square, London, England, was, until 1972, the Anglican parish church of the House of Commons. It is dedicated to Margaret of Antioch, and forms part of a single World Heritage Site with the Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey.

The Chapel Royal is an establishment in the Royal Household serving the spiritual needs of the sovereign of the British royal family. Historically it was a body of priests and singers that travelled with the monarch. The term is now also applied to the chapels within royal palaces, most notably at Hampton Court and St James's Palace, and other chapels within the Commonwealth designated as such by the monarch.

Chester Cathedral Church in Cheshire, United Kingdom

Chester Cathedral is a Church of England cathedral and the mother church of the Diocese of Chester. It is located in the city of Chester, Cheshire, England. The cathedral is dedicated to Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Since 1541 it has been the seat of the Bishop of Chester.

Great Malvern Priory Church in England

Great Malvern Priory in Malvern, Worcestershire, England, was a Benedictine monastery c. 1075 – 1540 and is now an Anglican parish church. In 1949 it was designated a Grade I listed building. It is a dominant building in the Great Malvern Conservation area. It has the largest display of 15th-century stained glass in England, as well as carved miserichords from the 15th and 16th century and the largest collection of medieval floor and wall tiles. In 1860 major restoration work was carried out by Sir George Gilbert Scott. It also the venue for concerts and civic services.

Bury St Edmunds Abbey partly ruined abbey in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, England

The Abbey of Bury St Edmunds was once among the richest Benedictine monasteries in England, until the Dissolution of the monasteries in 1539. It is in the town that grew up around it, Bury St Edmunds in the county of Suffolk, England. It was a centre of pilgrimage as the burial place of the Anglo-Saxon martyr-king Saint Edmund, killed by the Great Heathen Army of Danes in 869. The ruins of the abbey church and most other buildings are merely rubble cores, but two very large medieval gatehouses survive, as well as two secondary medieval churches built within the abbey complex.

David A. Carpenter is an English historian and writer, and Professor of Medieval History at King's College London where he has been working since 1988.

John Waltham 14th-century Bishop of Salisbury and Treasurer of England

John Waltham was a priest and high-ranking government official in England in the 14th century. He held a number of ecclesiastical and civic positions during the reigns of King Edward III and Richard II, eventually rising to become Lord High Treasurer, Lord Privy Seal of England and Bishop of Salisbury. He is buried in Westminster Abbey, London.

Osbern fitzOsbern was a Norman churchman.

Hilary of Chichester 12th century Bishop of Chichester

Hilary (c. 1110–1169) was a medieval Bishop of Chichester in England. English by birth, he studied canon law and worked in Rome as a papal clerk. During his time there, he became acquainted with a number of ecclesiastics, including the future Pope Adrian IV, and the writer John of Salisbury. In England, he served as a clerk for Henry of Blois, who was the Bishop of Winchester and brother of King Stephen of England. After Hilary's unsuccessful nomination to become Archbishop of York, Pope Eugene III compensated him by promoting him to the bishopric of Chichester in 1147.

The Westminster Abbey Museum was located in the 11th-century vaulted undercroft beneath the former monks' dormitory in Westminster Abbey, London, England. This was located in one of the oldest areas of the Abbey, dating back almost to the foundation of the Norman church by Edward the Confessor in 1065. This space had been used as a museum since 1908.

John Gunthorpe was an English administrator, Keeper of the Privy Seal and Dean of Wells.

Honouring individuals with burials and memorials in Westminster Abbey has a long tradition.

St Georges Chapel, Windsor Castle Church in Windsor, England

St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle in England, is a chapel designed in the high-medieval Gothic style. It is both a Royal Peculiar, a church under the direct jurisdiction of the monarch, and the Chapel of the Order of the Garter. Seating approximately 800, it is located in the Lower Ward of the castle.


Further reading