Westminster Abbey has a thousand years of history behind it. It began as a Catholic church established by monks who arrived from France in the 10th century.
The English Reformation was the series of events in 16th-century England by which the Church of England first broke away from the authority of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church. King Henry VIII, already married to Catherine of Aragon, fell under spell of the beautiful Anne Boleyn. and he wanted the Pope to annul his marriage. This could not be done and Henry’s response was to break away from the Catholic Church. He placed himself as the head of the Church, thus making his marriage to the beautiful Anne perfectly legal This is the main reason why Westminster Abbey became an Anglican Church.
Every year Westminster Abbey welcomes over one million visitors who want to explore this wonderful 700-year-old building n the heart of London The Abbey is a living church where worship still takes place today. Do not confuse it with the 19th Century Catholic Westminster Cathedral which is close by in Victoria Street. This extraordinary building, built in the decorative Byzantine style, is really worth a visit.
Things to See in Westminster Abbey
There’s a saying that you have to be either rich or famous to be buried in Westminster Abbey and reading the epitaphs this certainly is the case. The odd one out is the tomb of a farm worker, who claimed to be152 years old. His grave is in the South Transept. The rest really are famous. Just a few of the many are: Charles Darwin, Rudyard Kipping, Thomas Hardy, D H Lawrence, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Plus many more. The earliest memorial is to Geoffrey Chaucer who died in 1556.
The Grave of the Unknown Warrior
This a rather sad grave, especially after looking at the illustrious names in Poets Corner. This soldier, without a name, was killed during the First World. War (1914-1918). The only Congressional Medal of Honour given outside of the US was presented to this Unknown Warrior on 17 October 1921 and this hangs on a pillar nearby.
He was buried in imported French soil, and covered by Belgian marble, as a tribute to the British alliance with those countries during the war. His tomb marks the last full-body interment in the abbey.
College Garden – Westminster Abbey
There has been a garden here for over 900 years. It was established in the eleventh century mainly to grow medicinal herbs for sick and elderly members of the monastery. It also gave the monks palace to sit in the sun and to have a little exercise. Today, it still a nice place to have a rest. The oldest living things in the present garden are the five tall plane trees, planted in 1850.
The Garden is thought to be oldest garden in England at nearly 1,000 years old. Pick up a leaflet at the garden entrance to learn about the planting. College Garden is open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
Henry VII’s Chapel – Westminster Abbey
It was commissioned and paid for by Henry VII and both he and his wife are buried here.
Also known as the Lady Chapel, work was begun in 1503 and it is described as one of the greatest surviving examples of medieval architecture in the world. Raise your eyes to the ceiling and you will see the spectacular fan-vaulted roof. It is set apart from the rest of the abbey by brass gates and a flight of stairs.
The Coronation Chair
Do not leave without seeing the Coronation Chair. Every monarch has sat here for coronation since 1066.
Westminster Abbey – A Few Tips
The Abbey is a living church where services still takes place today . There is no charge for people who want to worship but there is an admission charge for those who wish to want to explore the Abbey.
There are various kinds of tours available from the personal audio tours available free with all tickets.
A treat for children. They can dress as a monk and have their photo taken in the Cloisters. Go to the Abbey Museum and ask to borrow a costume!
Taking photographs inside the Abbey is not allowed.