Westminster Abbey is a Gothic church that is the traditional place of coronation and burial for English monarchs. The formal name for Westminster Abbey is the Collegiate Church of St Peter, Westminster.
Westminster Abbey is simply a church owned directly by the royal family. It is neither a parish church nor a cathedral. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the traditional cleric in the coronation ceremonies.
The Abbey contains some of the most magnificent medieval architecture in Great Britain. The oldest part of the Abbey dates back to 1050 and because of its royal connections it was spared King Henry VIII’s wrath and general assault on monastic structures during the Reformation. It is located next to the Houses of Parliament in the Westminster neighbourhood of London.
Monarchs And Poets
The actual coronation throne is located in the Abbey. Kings and Queens of England have been crowned on the throne since the 1300’s. The only monarchs who have not been crowned here are Lady Jane Grey, Edward V and Edward VIII, who did not have coronations.
There is a Poet’s Corner that is full of memorials to Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare and many others. The tombs of the Protestant Elizabeth I and the Catholic “Bloody” Mary are here, as are the tombs of Charles Darwin and David Livingston. There is even a stone statue over the Great West Door of Martin Luther King, Jr. If you are an English history buff, Westminster Abbey will be a pleasure that you will savor.
Henry III had the Abbey rebuilt in honor of the Royal Saint Edward the Confessor. His relics and a memorial are placed in the Abbey. This shrine of Saint Edward the Confessor has been the main focus of pilgrimages to Westminster Abbey since the middle ages.
Henry III is buried here as are most of the kings and queens of England and their wives, husbands and relatives. However, Charles I and King Henry VIII are buried in Windsor Castle as have most of the monarchs since George II. The Poet’s Corner has been immortalized because Geoffrey Chaucer is buried there.
Charles Purcell, the musician is buried there as well. It has become quite fashionable to be buried at Westminster Abbey that is if you can get a spot. You have to be famous to receive a burial spot in Westminster Abbey. Poet’s Corner not only contains the crypts of poets, but generals, scientists and doctors.
According to historical records, a shrine was first founded on this site in 616. It was then known as Thorney Island. It has been said a fisherman on the River Thames saw of vision of Saint Peter and after that the site has been considered miraculously consecrated.
Westminster Abbey was built of Norman design and then rebuilt by Henry III in the Gothic style. The expression “robbing Peter to pay Paul” may in fact come from the period of Henry VIII when money meant for the Abbey, which was dedicated to St. Peter was diverted to the treasury of St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Wandering through Westminster Abbey one gets a sense of all of the great souls which have passed on. The beauty and peacefulness of this church is a perfect setting for poets and authors and brilliant minds.
Some of the people who are buried in Westminster Abbey are Charles Darwin, Ben Johnson, Sir Isaac Newton, The Unknown Warrior, William Pitt the Younger, Robert Browning, Thomas Campbell, Thomas Hardy, Laurence Olivier, William Camden, John Dryden, George Frederick Handel, Dr. Samuel Johnson, Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Parr, Edmund Spenser and Alfred Tennyson.
One can imagine the conversations and debates and the music that is playing in the quiet silence in Poet’s Corner while the resting eyes of former monarchs watch. Westminster Abbey is a wonderful place to engulf yourself in English history.