Discover Westminster Abbey | Location, Facts, Highlights & More
A UNESCO Heritage Site, Westminster Abbey is a beautiful medieval Gothic church in London. It is home to a wide range of tombs, statues, and memorials. The Abbey has been the site for several popular Royal events as well. With a rich history and stunning architecture, Westminster Abbey is one of the top attractions to visit in London.
What is Westminster Abbey?
Located on the site of a former Benedectine monastery, Westminster Abbey is a popular London church. Since the time of William the Conqueror, all the British Rulers have been crowned here. From Henry I to Prince William, the abbey has been the site for many royal weddings. Also, many Kings and Queens have been buried in Henry VII’s Chapel or near Edward the Confessor’s shrine.
The church was refounded as the Collegiate Church of St. Peter in 1560 by Queen Elizabeth I. In 1987, Westminster Abbey, along with the Houses of Parliament and St. Margaret’s Church, was added to the list of the UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Why is Westminster Abbey Famous?
Westminster Abbey is famous because, since 1066, it is the place where the English monarchs have been crowned with Crown Jewels from the Tower of London. For the coronation ceremony, the designated Coronation Chair is kept on the Cosmati Pavement, an Italian creation of a mosaic of stones and glass. Apart from that, it has been the burial site for many British Royals and a site for several Royal Weddings as well.
Westminster Abbey Location
Address: Westminster Abbey, 20 Deans Yd, London SW1P 3PA, United Kingdom
Spanning over 32,000 sq.ft., Westminster Abbey is situated on the banks of the river Thames.
Westminster Abbey can be accessed by all major public transportation networks, such as the bus, tube, train, and even by riverboats. Alternatively, you can also drive to the attraction. However, you will have to make use of the paid parking facilities in the vicinity as Westminster Abbey does not offer parking space.
If you have the time and you wish to explore as much of London as possible, we recommend walking or cycling to the attraction.
Westminster Abbey Opening Times
Monday to Friday: 9:30 AM to 4:30 PM (last entry at 3:30 PM)
Saturday: 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM (last entry at 1:00 PM)
Sunday: Open for services
As the abbey is a working church, it is possible that on some days there may be a relaxed opening with some areas closed off to the visitors.
Who Built Westminster Abbey?
The present Westminster Abbey building dates to the time of King Henry III’s reign. The eastern part of the 11th century Abbey, founded by King Edward the Confessor in 1065, was pulled down by King Henry III in 1245. He then rebuilt the abbey in Anglo-French Gothic style for his own burial and dedicated it to King Edward. Although the construction began in 1245, the design was completed under the reign of Richard II.
History of Westminster Abbey
- A large stone church is built in the honor of St. Peter the Apostle in 960 AD which came to be known as “west minster”.
- King Edward’s remains were entombed in front of the High Altar in 1065.
- King Henry III decided to rebuild the abbey in Gothic style in the mid-13th century. It was now not just a place of worship but also the coronation and burials of monarchs.
- Every monarch has been crowned here since William the Conqueror.
- The abbey gets a remarkable new addition of Henry VII Lady Chapel in 1516.
- Queen Elizabeth I refounded the abbey as a Collegiate Church exempt from the jurisdiction of bishops and archbishops.
Westminster Abbey Architecture
In 1245, King Henry III started construction for a new church in a new Gothic style dedicated to St Edward the Confessor. The three masons supervising the construction of the church were Robert of Beverly, John of Gloucester, and Henry of Reyns. Henry, the architect, took inspiration from new cathedrals Amiens, Reims, and Chartres, to add apse with radiating chapels. He used Gothic features such as ribbed vaults, pointed arches, rose windows, etc. You will also find a few English features in the building such as a single aisle and a long nave with projecting transepts.
Westminster Abbey has the highest Gothic vault in England that seemed higher because of the narrow aisles. The design of the Abbey was taken from the continental system of geometrical proportion. Furthermore, a spacious area was provided between the starting of the quire and the high altar which was the ‘theatre’ for the coronation ceremony. The windows were filled with stunning ruby and sapphire glasses along with a pattern of heraldic shields.
Things to do at Westminster Abbey
One of the most important pieces of furniture in the world, the Coronation Chair is kept in the St. George’s Chapel of Westminster Abbey. It has been used in the coronation ceremonies for over 700 years by placing it in front of the High Altar, at the center of the Abbey. It was built in 1296 under King Edward I.
Henry VII Lady Chapel
The Henry VII Lady Chapel was built by King Henry VII on the eastern side of Westminster Abbey. The chapel is home to the tombs of King Henry VII, his wife, and James. Built in the late perpendicular Gothic style, this chapel has a pendant vault fan ceiling and has been called ‘the wonder of the world’ by John Leland. Since 1725, it is the mother church of the Order of the Bath.
There are over 30 Kings and Queens buried in the Royal Tombs of Westminster Abbey. The first was Edward the Confessor whose shrine is just behind the High Altar. The church was built by Henry III whose effigy is kept near the shrine.
Poet’s Corner in the east aisle of Westminster Abbey is a pilgrimage site for literary enthusiasts. There are over 100 poets and writers buried here or have their memorials. A few of them are world-famous such as William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Geoffrey Chaucer, and more.
With your Westminster Abbey tickets, you can tour around the Pyx Chamber which is one of the oldest parts of the Abbey. Built in 1070, it is a low vaulted room in Undercroft. There are two heavy oak doors from the 14th century and the medieval tiled floor from the 11th century. You will find a large curved medieval chest that stored vestments while other chests had treaties and foreign documents.
Attend one of the daily choral services at Westminster Abbey to listen to the Choir sing from their quire stalls. This is an old tradition that dates back to the chanting of plain songs by the monks in the 10th century. In the 18th century, the original quire stalls were replaced. This happened again in 1848 and the present quire stalls were installed then.
You can stroll around the 900-years old College Garden at Westminster Abbey too. The garden is beautifully laid out and was used to cultivate food in the early days. Currently, you will find a stone wall built in 1376, the 18th Century Westminster school dormitory, a rose garden, and a water fountain. There are two smaller gardens - Little Cloister Garden with a Victorian fountain and scented border plants, and Garth which is bordered by cloisters.
The space above the West Door had been empty since the Middle Ages. Later on, the space was filled with limestone sculptures of the Modern Martyrs and unveiled in a service attended by Queen Elizabeth II in 1998. The martyrs have been included from different continents and include victims of racism, Nazism, and religious prejudice. From Dr. Martin Luther King to Wang Zhiming, you will find statues of many leaders and activists here.
Westminster Abbey on Screen
Movies: The Da Vinci Code, The Young Victoria, The Army of Shadows, The Stuarts, Westminster Abbey, Minions, and more.
TV: The Prisoner, A History of Britain, Monarchy with David Starky, The Tower.
Music: England Swings (Roger Miller), Different Ways of Living (Bee Appleseed), Lost Art (JR Shitty & Bean Flowers).
Video Games: Watch Dogs: Legion, The Da Vinci Code Game PS2, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, Assassin’s Creed: Project Legacy, Sherlock Holmes: Fenian Dynamite Campaign, The Simpsons: Tapped Out, and more.