Follow Us:

Westminster Abbey

Westminster AbbeyWestminster Abbey View slideshow
A church dedicated to St Peter is said to have stood on the site of Westminster Abbey from the early seventh century until it was destroyed by the Danes. This church was named "Westminster" to distinguish it from the "Eastminster", St Mary-of-the-Graces. Westminster Abbey - officially the Collegiate Church of St Peter in Westminster - was founded by Edward the Confessor in 1065 as his place of interment, and from his burial (1066) until that of George II (1760) most English and British sovereigns were buried here, as well as numerous prominent national figures. Since 1066, when William the Conqueror was crowned here, Westminster Abbey has been the place of coronation of every subsequent sovereign except Edward V and Edward VIII, as well as the scene of many royal weddings. Westminster Abbey belongs to the Crown, under an independent Dean and Chapter.
Edward the Confessor's Norman church was rebuilt by Henry III in a style influenced by French Gothic, but only the nave was completed during his reign. After suffering destruction in a fire (1298), parts of the abbey were rebuilt by Henry Yevele in 1388 on the basis of the 13th century plans. The vaulting of the nave was completed by Abbot Islip in 1506. The Gothic-style west front with its two towers was the work of Nicholas Hawksmoor, a pupil of Wren (1735-40). A masterpiece of Gothic architecture, Westminster Abbey has the highest Gothic nave in England (34m/102ft).
Sir Issac Newton and a number of Astronomers Royal are buried in the Abbey.
Official site: www.westminster-abbey.org
Address: 20 Deans Yard, London SW1P 3PA, England
ENLARGE MAP PRINT MAP EMBED < > Westminster Abbey - Floor plan map Westminster Abbey Map

Westminster Abbey Highlights

Nave

Westminster Abbey is entered by the west door. It contains numerous monuments, statues and memorials. Those of particular interest are listed below.
To the right is St George's Chapel, formerly the baptistery, which is dedicated to those who fell in World War I. To the left of the memorial to Franklin D. Roosevelt is the 14th century portrait of Richard II, probably the oldest surviving portrait of an English monarch.
The south aisle contains a tablet to Lord Baden-Powell (d. 1941), founder of the Scout movement; the Abbot's Pew, a small oak gallery erected by Abbot Oslip in the 16th century; a collection of 18th century busts of British officers; the bust of theologian Isaac Watts (d. 1748); memorials to Methodist John Wesley (d. 1791), to the painter Godfrey Kneller (d. 1723) (constructed to his own design) and to William Thynne (d. 1584); a bust of the Corsican hero Pasquale Paoli (d. 1807) and a relief for the pedagogue Andrew Bell (d. 1832). Immediately ahead, on the floor of the nave, is the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, and beyond this is a memorial stone commemorating Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965). Other slabs in the nave mark the graves of the architects Sir Charles Barry, Sir George Gilbert Scott, G. E. Street and J. L. Pearson; David Livingstone, the African missionary and explorer (d. 1873); the engineers Robert Stephenson (d. 1859) and Thomas Telford (d. 1834); Lord Clyde, Lord Lawrence and Sir James Outram, who distinguished themselves during the Indian Mutiny; and the statesmen Bonar Law (d. 1923) and Neville Chamberlain (d. 1940).
In the north aisle is an allegorical monument to William Pitt the Younger (d. 1806); other important monuments commemorate William Wilberforce (d. 1833), one of the chief opponents of the slave trade; statesman Charles James Fox (d. 1806); the poet Ben Johnson (d. 1637); the composers Orlando Gibbons (d. 1625), Henry Purcell (d. 1695) and William Croft (d. 1727); the scientist and explorer Charles Darwin (d. 1882); a window dedicated to the engineer Brunel (d. 1859) and finally the black sarcophagus of Sir Isaac Newton (d. 1727).

Transepts

Memorials in the north transept of Westminster Abbey include a memorial to Admiral Peter Warren (d. 1752); the tombstone of William Gladstone (d. 1898) near the memorial to Sir Robert Peel (d. 1850); to the left are memorials to Warren Hastings (d. 1818), Governor-General of India; the statesman and judge Lord Mansfield (d. 1793); and William Pitt the Elder (d. 1778). The east aisle of the north transept is occupied by three chapels: the chapel of St Andrew with the tomb of Lord Norris (d. 1801), the chapel of St Michael with the tombs of J. Gascoigne Nightingale (d. 1752) and his wife (d. 1734) and the chapel of St John the Evangelist with the tomb of Sir Francis Vere (d. 1608), an officer of Elizabeth I.

Poet's Corner

On the west side of the south transept are a relief for the actor David Garrick (d. 1779); a memorial to author W. M. Thackery (d. 1863) and the Roubiliac statue of Handel. The south and east walls are lined with statues of poets, the so-called "Poets' Corner". Some of the poets commemorated here include Sir Walter Scott (d. 1832), Oliver Goldsmith (d. 1774), John Gay (d. 1732), William Shakespeare (d. 1616), John Dryden (d. 1700), H. W. Longfellow (d. 1882), Geoffrey Chaucer (d. 1400), Percy B. Shelley (d. 1822), Lord Byron (d. 1824), Robert Burns (d. 1796), Robert Browning (d. 1889), Charles Dickens (d. 1870), Lord Tennyson (d. 1892), Rudyard Kipling (d. 1936) and T. S. Eliot (d. 1965).
On the south side is the entrance to the Chapel of St Faith with two 16th century Brussels tapestries.

Choir & Sanctuary

The Westminster Abbey choir, which occupies the same position as the choir of Edward the Confessor's earlier church, extends across the transept into the nave. The sanctuary, where coronations take place, has a mosaic pavement (usually covered) brought to London in 1268 from Rome. On the left, three particularly beautiful medieval tombs may be seen: of Edmund Crouchback (d. 1296), founder of the house of Lancaster; of Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke (d. 1324); and of Crouchback's wife, Aveline (d. 1273). On the right side of the sanctuary are oak sedilia (seats for the clergy), probably from the tomb of King Sebert dating from the seventh century. In the ambulatory is the marble monument to General Wolfe, who fell at Quebec in 1759.
On the high altar (by Sir George Gilbert Scott, 1867) are a glass mosaic of the Last Supper by Salviati and fine sculptured figures.

Royal Chapels

The tour of the Royal Chapels begins on the left of the sanctuary with the two-story structure housing the tomb of Abbot Islip (d. 1532) who completed the nave of the abbey. The upper story is a memorial for the Medical Corps.

Westminter Abbey - Chapel of Henry VII

Twelve black marble steps lead to the Chapel of Henry VII which adjoins the apse. This magnificent structure, which is almost a church in itself, was built in 1503-19 by Robert Vertue, Henry's master mason. The nave of the chapel is a supreme example of late Perpendicular architecture with a profusion of rich sculptured decoration and beautiful fan vaulting. The tomb of Henry VII and his queen in the center of the chapel was the work of the Florentine sculptor Torrigiani. Henry VII (d. 1509) and Elizabeth of York (d. 1502) united the Houses of Lancaster and York by their marriage and ended the War of the Roses. James I, George II and Edward VI are also buried in the chapel. Above the tombs can be seen the banners and on both sides the carved stalls of the Knights of the Order of the Bath. Over 100 figures and monuments adorn the interior. In the left aisle is the Innocents Corner in which are buried Sophie and Mary, the daughters of James I, who were respectively three and two years old when they died. Nearby is a small sarcophagus with the remains of the sons of Edward IV who were murdered in the Tower, and finally the tombs of Elizabeth I (d. 1603) and her predecessor Mary Tudor (d. 1558). Of the surrounding small chapels one contains the marble tomb of the Duke of Montpensier (d. 1807), brother of Louis-Philippe; the adjoining Royal Air Force Chapel dedicated to the fallen in the Battle of Britain with its fine Memorial Window; to the left the tomb of John Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham (d. 1723), and Anne of Denmark (d. 1618), wife of James I. The last chapel contains the tomb of George Villiers, Second Duke of Buckingham. Until 1661 Oliver Cromwell and his officers were also buried here. Among the funeral monuments in the right aisle are those of Lady Margaret Douglas (d. 1577), Mary Queen of Scots (executed 1587), and the life-size figure of George Monk, Duke of Albermarle (d. 1670), who reinstated the Stuarts. Also to be seen are the tombs of Charles II, William II and his consort, and Queen Anne and her husband.
The fan vaulting has unique pendant elements incorporated into the vault.

Henry V Chantry Chapel

Leaving the Chapel of Henry VII we enter the Chantry Chapel of Henry V with the recumbent effigy of the king together with a saddle, helmet and shield, thought to be those used at the Battle of Agincourt. The king's head was stolen during the reign of Henry VIII.

Cloisters

The entrance to the cloisters lies towards the center of the south aisle of Westminster Abbey. The cloisters date from the 13th and 14th centuries and contain many tombs. The southwest corner of the cloisters leads to Dean's Yard and the College Garden, said to be the oldest in England (open Thursday only). The remaining rooms to the west of the cloisters, the Deanery, Jericho Parlor and Jerusalem Chamber, in which Henry IV died in 1413, are not open to the public.

Chapter House

The fine Chapter House of Westminster Abbey was the meeting place of the king's Great Council in 1257 and of Parliament from the mid-14th to the mid-16th century; it was subsequently used as an archive until 1865. It is an octagonal chamber 20m/60ft across, probably built by Henry of Reims (1245-55). The vaulting is supported on a single pier of clustered shafts (a copy of the original pier by Sir George Gilbert Scott, set up during restoration of the Chapter House in 1866). Other notable features are a Roman sarcophagus, the well-preserved 13th century pavement, the ornamental tracery of the six windows and the circular tympanum of the doorway, with figures of Christ in Majesty, the Virgin and angels (13th century).
Address: 20 Dean's Yard, Westminster Abbey, London SW1P 3PA, England

Museum

The Norman Undercroft, part of Edward the Confessor's church, now houses the Westminster Abbey Museum, with old seals and charters, 14th and 15th century chests, architectural fragments and the coronation chair of Mary II.
There is also an unusual collection of wax effigies which were displayed at funerals, including the figures of Charles II, Elizabeth I, Mary II, William III, the Duke of Buckingham and Lord Nelson. The wooden figure of Edward III is the oldest wooden effigy of a monarch in Europe.

Chapel of the Pyx

The Chapel of the Pyx, originally a sacristy in Edward the Confessor's church, contains the oldest altar in Westminster Abbey. It later became a royal treasury, in which was kept the "pyx", a chest containing the trial-plates of gold and silver used in the annual test of the coinage.

St Edward's Chapel

The Henry V Chantry Chapel leads to St Edward's Chapel, built over the apse of the older church. In the center is the wooden shrine of Edward the Confessor (d. 1066) which has been robbed of its original decoration. It was built in 1269 on the orders of Henry III and for a long time was a place of pilgrimage. Notable tombs in the chapel include (from the right): the simple tablet of Edward I (d. 1308); the porphyry tomb of Henry III (d. 1272) with rich mosaic decoration; Queen Eleanor (d. 1290), first wife of Edward I with an inscription in old French; Philippa (d. 1369) the wife of Edward III; Edward III (d. 1377); Margaret Woodville (d. 1472), the nine-month-old daughter of Edward IV, and finally Richard II (murdered in 1399).

Coronation Chair (Stone of Scone)

Against the back wall of the St Edward's Chapel sanctuary stands the old oak Coronation Chair of Edward I, below which can be seen the Stone of Scone. This block of sandstone from the west coast of Scotland represents the power of the Scottish princes; it was considered to have been Jacob's pillow and that on it rested the head of the dying St Columba in the Abbey of Iona. Edward I brought the stone to London in 1296 as a sign of the defeat of the Scots. Many English monarchs have since been crowned on the old chair which on these occasions is placed in the sanctuary and decorated with gold brocade. Near the old chair stands the new Coronation Chair made in 1689 and between them can be seen the Sword of State and the shield of Edward III.

Chapel of St John the Baptist

Adjoining Westminster Abbey's Islip Chapel is the Chapel of St John the Baptist with the tomb of Thomas Cecil, Earl of Exeter (d. 1623). The space on the left was intended for his second wife but she refused this since the place of honor on the right was already occupied by her predecessor. Next comes the Chapel of St Paul which contains the tombs of Sir Roland Hill (d. 1879), creator of the Penny Post system, Lord Cottington (d. 1652), Charles I's Chancellor of the Exchequer, and James Watt (d. 1819).

Chapels of South Ambulatory

The first chapel in the South Ambulatory of Westminster Cathedral is dedicated to St Nicholas. In the middle is the marble tomb of Sir George Villiers, first Duke of Buckingham (d. 1606), and his wife. Another notable tomb is that of Catherine of Valois, the wife of Henry V, who was buried beneath this tomb for 350 years and is now in the Chantry Chapel of Henry V. Among the monuments is one to Elizabeth, Duchess of Northumberland (d. 1776), which is a masterpiece by Robert Adam and Nicholas Read.
Outstanding among the many tombs in the Chapel of St Edmund is that of William de Valence, Earl of Pembroke and half-brother of Henry III (killed in battle at Bayonne 1296). The effigy is covered with gilded copper plates and decorated with Limoges enamel. Also of interest are the tombs of Eleanor de Bohun, Duchess of Gloucester (d. 1399), represented as a nun; the alabaster tomb of John of Eltham (d. 1334), second son of Edward II, and of Edward Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury (d. 1617) and his wife.
The Chapel of St Benedict contains, among others, the marble tomb of Simon Langham (d. 1376), Abbot of Westminster and Archbishop of Canterbury; in the center the tomb of Lionel Cranfield, Earl of Middlesex (d. 1645), chancellor to James I, and the tomb of Anne of Cleves, fourth wife of Henry VIII.

Sightseeing Nearby:

You may also be interested in:

More on PlanetWare