Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey is the historic church near the banks of the River Thames where over three-dozen British monarchs have been crowned king or queen during their coronation ceremony. For approximately a thousand years Westminster Abbey has played an integral role in the lives and deaths (and everything in between) of the royal family, and every nook and cranny of this special place is full of rich history. Particular highlights of a visit to Westminster Abbey would have to include Poet’s Corner, the Henry VII Lady Chapel, the Coronation Chair, and the many royal tombs located throughout this British institution.

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History of Westminster Abbey

A building of some religious importance or other has stood on the site of Westminster Abbey since King Edward the Confessor ordered a monastery constructed here in 1065. William the Conqueror had his coronation ceremony within this original building one year later in 1066, and Edward the Confessor’s initial structure lasted for about 200 years (all that can be said to remain of it today is the Pyx Chamber). During the thirteenth century, King Henry III desired a new church be built in the then-fashionable Gothic style, and this version of Westminster Abbey was finished in 1269.

In the first two decades of the sixteenth century, Henry VII had a Lady Chapel added to the existing church’s structure. In 1745, the Abbey’s western towers were at last completed (they had been at that time only partially built for several hundred years). To this date, over 3,000 people have been buried at Westminster Abbey, and the church continues to be the site of coronations, royal weddings, state funerals, and regular worship services.

Westminster Abbey Highlights

The Henry VII Lady Chapel is widely considered one of the more beautiful aspects of Westminster Abbey, with its fan-vaulted ceiling routinely hailed as a rousing example of late-medieval architecture. Within this lovely space 15 different monarchs are buried, including Elizabeth I, Mary I, William III and Mary II, and George II, just to name a few.

Indeed, royal tombs are one of the hallmarks of Westminster Abbey: in total, the church houses the remains of 30 kings and queens of England. The first ruler to be buried here was Edward the Confessor, and you won’t want to miss the large shrine in his memory that stands behind the Abbey’s High Altar. Henry III, the monarch arguably most responsible for creating the church as it appears today, is buried near him.

Of all the historic artifacts housed within Westminster Abbey, perhaps none are of such significance as the Coronation Chair. Housed today within St. George’s Chapel, the Coronation Chair was built in 1296 at the instructions of King Edward I. While accounts vary, the consensus is that the chair was first used to crown a new monarch in 1399, when Henry IV came to the throne. Since then, 39 other monarchs have used the chair during their coronation ceremonies in Westminster Abbey, the most recent being the newly crowned King Charles III.

No visit to Westminster Abbey is complete without seeking out Poet’s Corner, the remarkable area of the church where over 100 distinguished writers are either interred or memorialized. Westminster Abbey’s Poet’s Corner is a veritable “Who’s Who” of British literature. Chaucer, Spenser, Dickens, Tennyson, and Hardy are all buried here, while Shakespeare, Auden, Austen, Blake, Keats, and the Brontë sisters have memorials in their name—and these lists only scratch the surface!

More to See and Do at Westminster Abbey

Everywhere you turn within the hallowed walls of Westminster Abbey, there’s something of tremendous historic importance just waiting to be discovered. To make the most of your experience here, keep in mind a few more things to see and do.

•With so much to see and do at Westminster Abbey, you’ll want to make sure and take advantage of the attraction’s multimedia guide, which will prove a tremendous resource as you navigate Westminster Abbey’s many highlights. The multimedia guide is included free of charge as part of your admission, and will be offered to you when you enter.

•One of the Abbey’s most eerie areas is the Pyx Chamber. Considered one of the oldest surviving portions of the attraction, the Pyx Chamber dates all the way back to the year 1070. Over the centuries this small room has been used as everything from a treasury to a sacristy to a storage space for important documents. Some of its tiled floors are original to the eleventh century, while the Pyx Chamber’s massive oak doors have been in place here since the early 1300s.

•It’s said that music has been played within the walls of Westminster Abbey for over a thousand years now, and the heart of this choral tradition is found within the area of the site known as The Quire. This ornate space houses the Abbey’s choristers, who perform choral services here daily. Check out Westminster Abbey’s official website for more details.

•Westminster Abbey is the type of place where it feels as though nothing has changed for centuries, but despite the attraction’s rich history, that’s not quite true. To that end, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries are the newest addition to Westminster Abbey. Strikingly situated in the church’s triforium—an interior gallery space above the floor of the Abbey—the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries display to the public such prized possessions as the he Liber Regalis, the Westminster Retable, an effigy head of King Henry VII, Queen Mary II’s coronation chair, and more.

•There are two food options available at Westminster Abbey. The Cellarium Café and Terrace is a traditional restaurant: it serves breakfast, lunch, and afternoon tea service. For visitors in the mood for something more casual, Westminster Abbey’s Kiosk sells to-go sandwiches, waffles, muffins, coffee, and tea.

Why Westminster Abbey Should Be on Your Must-See List

Westminster Abbey is one of London’s most storied landmarks, and on the short list of most famous churches in the world. It’s here that almost every British ruler of the past thousand years has been crowned, while thousands of prominent British people are buried within its venerable walls. A trip to Westminster Abbey is sure to prove a highlight of just about anyone’s visit to London.