Newest Review: ... little room to walk around, especially when it's very busy. There are many interesting places in Westminster Abbey like Poet's Corner. Ther... more
My favourite place in the world!
Westminster Abbey (London)
Member Name: tartlette
Westminster Abbey (London)
Advantages: History, location, architecture, beauty
Disadvantages: Slightly pricey
The Abbey that we see today was begun by Henry III in the 13th century. There had been a religious foundation on the site since the 7th century. The first Abbey was built by Edward the Confessor in the 11th century. Edward was buried in the Abbey and his successor, William the Conqueror was crowned in the building in 1066. Henry III ordered the rebuilding of the Abbey as a shrine to Edward the Confessor, who had by then been made a saint. Although the Abbey was begun in the 13th century, work continued up to the 16th. Henry VII added the Lady Chapel or Henry VII Chapel in the beginning of the 16th century. The two dominating West Towers were an 18th century addition.
Although it is usually known as Westminster Abbey, the building's official name is the Collegiate Church of St Peter. Henry VIII dissolved all the Abbey's and most were destroyed or sold, but royal connections saved Westminster. Elizabeth I made the Abbey a royal peculiar, meaning that it is answerable only to the monarch and not to a diocese.
The Abbey today is still very much a working church, holding regular services, as well as being used for special memorial services and funerals (such as Princess Diana).
All of England's monarchs since 1066 have been crowned in the Abbey (with the exception of Edward V and Edward VIII who weren't crowned at all). A good number have been buried in the Abbey, beginning with Edward the Confessor. Those monarch's buried there include Henry III,Edward I, Henry VII and Elizabeth I.
Getting to the Abbey is very easy. It is located in Parliament Square, directly opposite the Houses of Parliament. The nearest tube station is Westminster (Jubilee, District and Circle lines). Once out of the tube you can't miss the Abbey. There are numerous buses that go to Westminster from all sides of London.
Opening hours vary but in general the Abbey opens at 9.30 and last admission is 3.45 Mon, Tues, Thurs, Fri, 9.30-6 on Wed and 9.30-1.45 on Sat. The Abbey is closed to tourists on Sunday. The hours may seem quite short but this is still a working church.
The entrance fee is £10 (£6 for concessions), but before you all go WHAT???, remember how much there is to see here. It is expensive, especially if you have a guided tour (extra £4) or an audioguide (extra £3) but I think its worth it. You only have to go once!
The Abbey has some access for disabled people but not complete access and therefore they don't charge for entry for those in wheelchairs.
I've been to the Abbey many times, and despite the admission price I keep going back. I know all the tombs back to front, but the place has a draw for me. Even though its usually filled with tourists I find it a very peaceful place and every time I go I see something new.
The highlights for me are the tombs. These tombs are hundreds of years old and they actually hold the bodies of past monarchs. You can see the tombs of Edward I, Edward III, Richard II, Henry VII and Elizabeth I, among others. The only slight irritation is that your view of the tomb is often obstructed and they can often only be viewed from one side, meaning that you can't see the effigies on the top. Possibly the most amazing part of the Abbey is the ceiling in the Henry VII chapel. This is fan-vaulted and incredibly intricate. Spend some time looking at it, it will astound you. I think that Henry VII and Elizabeth of York's joint tomb is spectacular. It has bronze effigies of the monarchs and is surrounded by huge grilles. One of the most moving tombs in the Abbey is in the side chapel of the Henry VII chapel, where the tomb of Elizabeth I lies. At the far end of this chapel you will find the tomb of Princess Sophia, daughter of James I, in Innocent's corner. The tomb depicts a sleeping child in a cot. I have to admit that I am a bit of a tomb junkie (if such a thing exists!) and I can wonder for ages around the Abbey just looking at the tombs. They are not just tombs, either, but works of art. They are sculpted and moulded and look absolutely magnificent. Other highlights on the tomb front include the joint tomb of Elizabeth I and Mary I (although you have to look carefully to find reference to the Catholic Mary), Mary Queen of Scots and Richard II.
Don't be disappointed by the Coronation Chair. Although it is severely scratched (the work of generations of Westminster School boys!) you have to remember that it is over 700 years old, ordered by Edward I to house the Stone of Scone. The Stone itself is no longer present, having been returned to Scotland.
The Abbey would perhaps benefit from better labelling as it is not always clear to whom a tomb belongs, especially on the older monuments where the wording has worn away. I find this irritating, as, having visited fairly often, I am familiar with the more famous tombs but would like to know more about other monuments in the Abbey. The more famous tombs have all been labelled. A small label saying to whom the monument is dedicated on those less well known would be very helpful.
Poets Corner is very fascinating. Here lie the remains of many great British poets, and memorials to many more. The first poet's tomb here was Chaucer and the area is now filled by stones and monuments. There is even a stone to a man who was '154 years old' when he died!! This is on the floor in Poer's Corner, although he was not a poet.
Unfortunately one of the greatest sights of the Abbey is always covered to protect it. This is the Cosmati Pavement which leads to the altar. However, when you consider that this mosaic floor is over 700 years old you can see why it needs protecting! It is worth buying a guidebook to see it though.
The Abbey museum is also fascinating. Here you can see the death masks and funeral effigies of some of the monarchs buried within the Abbey. You can also see other memorabilia relating to the Abbey. I find some of the effigies incredible simply for their survival.
Another moving sight in the Abbey is the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Placed near the west doors, this tomb is a simple stone on the floor, surrounded by poppies. This is the best place to reflect on the visit and to perhaps light a candle.
Make sure that you don't miss the portrait of Richard II which is near the exit. This is thought to be the first portrait of an English monarch.
I really cannot recommend a visit to Westminster Abbey highly enough. The place is magical, literally a 'House of Kings'. Make sure that you buy a guidebook so that you can see the things that you cannot see on your visit, such as some of the effigies and the Cosmati floor. Its a place that will imprint itself on your mind.
Summary: Beautiful and peaceful, high priority for visit to London
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