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
Westminster Abbey - not just for coronations
Westminster Abbey (London)
Member Name: logberg
Westminster Abbey (London)
Date: 11/11/06, updated on 11/11/06 (398 review reads)
Advantages: History presented for all to appreciate
Disadvantages: None really
Hear the trumpets, see the pomp and ceremony today,
the 25th of December, 1066. You are lucky enough to be the recipient of an invitation to William the Conqueror's coronation and here you are witnessing the first monarch to walk down the stone floor to his coronation. You are among his subjects watching in awe, with hopes and aspirations for a honest and wise reign.
Move forward to 2006 and now you are in the same magnificent building which has endured the test of time. You may not be able to stand in awe today, but I did recently and immediately mused about all those feet which traversed these hallowed stones before me. Just a few foot-steps into this London icon you are hushed by the history, whispering in awe of the noble ‘residents’ some resting in grand chapels, others marked with massive statues and some marked by stone memorials on the floor.
Not just the royal, aristocrats and the country’s best in society but poets, writers, scientists, architects, politicians, musicians, military people, explorers and even an unknown solider in pride of place near the front entrance (West door) to the abbey. In the church and cloisters there are around 3300 officially buried but records were not kept until 1607 so not all buried here are documented and the actual number is known to be higher.
But, don’t think this is a cemetery. It is not. The minute you walk in the public, paying entrance on the side you can not help but be impressed with the architecture, the history and the age of this religious edifice. It quite takes your breath away. Truly it does.
I’ve visited twice but I have to say the second time I took so much more in. I was accompanied by my son, sister and brother-in-law from New Zealand. They were most impressed with their first vision, upon viewing the stunning towers and strikingly interesting exterior. Just seeing their initial reaction to the interior, especially the ceiling, was extremely memorable. It definitely has its own WOW factor. First impressions do count - they become really special when you think about all those who have gone before. Those as visitors and those who are buried there for eternity.
This mention of burials I’m sure will interest you as much as it did us.
Thomas Parr lived for 152 years and nine months so he’d seen out 10 monarchs but when he took his demise King Charles, impressed with his longevity, ordered that Parr be buried in Westminster Abbey.
He takes his place in history under a small, white marble gravestone in the centre of the South Transept: it reads ‘’THO; PARR OF YE COUNTY OF SALLOP. Borne in AD: 1483. He lived in ye reignes of ten princes VIZ; K.EDW.4, K.ED.5. K.RICH3. K.HEN.7, K.HEN.8, K.EDW.6. Q.MA. Q.ELIZ. K.JA & K.CHARLES, AGED 152 YEARES. 7 WAS BURYED HERE NOVEMB. 15.1635.
LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY
Taking centuries to construct, Westminster Abbey is an architectural gem and it’s easy to see why it has been described as ‘’unique pageant of British history’‘ where you will see tombs of kings and queens, the shrine of St Edward the Confessor, set in quiet grandeur. It is still a fully operative church, regular worship as well as grand national occasions take place here, including every coronation since 1066, royal weddings and funerals. (Apparently when stating the claim that every monarch has been crowned at Westminster Abbey there needs to be a clarification: there were two exceptions: Edward V and Edward VIII were never crowned - so that clears that up for history boffins reading this.)
Apparently it is neither a cathedral or a parish church but a ‘’Royal Peculiar’‘ with jurisdiction by a Dean and Chapters, answerable to the Sovereign. Since my visit there I’ve read that Prince Charles may break from tradition and have his coronation elsewhere: what a dreadful shame to sever such long, strong, historic bonds with previous monarchs. The only connection in my opinion will be that his decision to go elsewhere will be a ‘’Royal Peculiar’‘ decision!
We walked in the main public entrance and like most others moved to the left, in behind the high altar to see the massive tombs of the great, wealthy and memorable. I particularly was interested in the Coronation Chair, not for its beauty but because I’d seen the Stone which sits under it for coronations, in Stirling Castle (I think), where I learned that it had been kept in Westminster Abbey against the wishes of the Scottish people for many decades. Our current Queen Elizabeth returned the stone to Scotland and it will come back down when needed for further coronations. (That’s if they are held in the Abbey!)
Grand edifices, beautiful wooden carvings, stunning stained glass windows, the dark and fantastically carved choir chairs, gold and grandeur all come readily to mind as I reminisce on our visits. Each time we have been there we have been reminded that Westminster Abbey is a place of worship, foremost, a place of God. A duty minister has invited us to stop and take time to pray, as thoughts of the day are shared with those present. Quiet reflection comes easy here.
I haven’t ‘’walked’‘ you through every inch of this magnificent abbey, there’s too much to tell but you should join the many thousands of visitors from all over the world who go to explore and appreciate this wonderful place, next door to the Palace of Westminster, the seat of parliament. However, I would like to share with you the Chapter House because it is one of the biggest in England.
This octagonal Chapter House has beautiful Victorian stained glass windows, is adorned with sculpture and wall paintings of the Apocalypse - here you will find the Last Judgement painted on the east wall. Our guide was justifiably proud of the role the Chapter House has played in the life of Westminster Abbey and overall he had every reason to be. From 1250s the monks met in here for prayers and to read chapters from the rule of St Benedict and to talk about their daily tasks. There are no monks there in today’s evangelical life.
This important Chapter House was in fact, the first place that the King’s Great Council met in 1257 which historically is the start of the English Parliament, it later moved over the road to the Palace of Westminster.... which is still the House of Parliament today.
Do visit the Museum, just off the Cloisters: it has a huge range of apparel, papers, manuscripts, crowns and other aspects of monastery and church life from the very beginning of Westminster Abbey.
GENERAL FACTS AND FIGURES YOU MAY LIKE TO KNOW
Now for some general facts about The Collegiate Church of St Peter, Westminster: the official title of Westminister Abbey. Mainly limestone from Caen in France and sandstone from Reigate in Surrey make up the construction, along with Purbeck marble from Jurassic Dorset are included in the 2972 square metres (32,000 square feet): 161.5 metre (530 feet) length of the exterior.
For the 1953 coronation there were around 8200 people present, no doubt taking in the grandeur of the event but also the striking 68 metres (225 ft 4 inches) of the West Towers, the interior length being 156 metres (511 feet).
Every day worshippers can total 2000 and they too will be impressed with the holiness of the place but also the 50 metre (166 feet) and the height of the Henry VII Chapel - 18.5metres (60ft 7 inches); or the width across of the entire chapel, 21 metres (70 ft 1 inch).
I loved the Waterford Crystal chandeliers which the Guiness family gave to celebrate the 900th anniversary in 1965.
ABBEY MISSION STATMENT
Westminster Abbey’s ministry is to SERVE ALMIGHTY GOD AS A SCHOOL OF THE LORD’S SERVICE BY OFFERING DIVINE WORSHIP DAILY AND PUBLICLY...... TO SERVE THE SOVEREIGN BY DAILY PRAYER AND BY A READY RESPONSE TO REQUESTS MADE BY HER OR ON HER BEHALF..... TO SERVE THE NATION BY FOSTERING THE PLACE OF TRUE RELIGION WITHIN NATIONAL LIFE, MAINTAINING A CLOSE RELATIONSHIP WITH THE MEMBERS OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS AND THE HOUSE OF LORDS AND WITH OTHERS IN REPRESENTATIVE POSITIONS...... TO SERVE PILGRIMS AND ALL OTHER VISITORS AND TO MAINTAIN A TRADITION OF HOSPITALITY TOWARDS ALL OUR VISITORS AND GUESTS.’‘ For me, those involved in its stewardship are certainly achieving these ideals.
Westminster Abbey has an Anglican heritage and responsibilities within the Church of England. The Archbishop of Canterbury has special rights to preside over ceremonies there. More recent history, seen on television screens, has brought grand Westminster Abbey occasions into homes all over the world but there’s nothing like actually being there. Anyone reading this will have memories of some events at Westminster Abbey and I am sure, like myself, a visit there will prove it to be so much bigger and grander than it looks on tv. I remembered the high altar but had no idea of the magnificence behind it - history abounds at every step.
Today’s tourists can appreciate this truly fine, religious house which is funded mostly by admission fees as it receives no government or church funding. In my opinion the charge is most reasonable for what you see and learn and to help restore it for generations to come.
TOMB OF THE UNKNOWN WARRIOR
Before I leave this review I’d like to share some information about the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior as it was one aspect of the abbey I’ve been interested in since I was a little girl. An unknown soldier’s body was brought over from France and buried in the abbey on November 11, 1920. Along with him, in the grave, is some French soil, covered with black Belgian marble from Namur. A thick ‘hedge’ of red poppies are placed around the tomb.
The outer inscription says .... THE LORD KNOWETH THEM THAT ARE HIS.... GREATER LOVE HATH NO MAN THAN THIS....UNKNOWN AND YET WELL KNOWN, DYING AND BEHOLD WE LIVE, and IN CHRIST SHALL ALL BE MADE ALIVE.
The actual identity of the soldier is of course not known but he may be from any of the three services: army, airforce or navy and from any part of the British Isles or Commonwealth countries: most importantly, and poignantly it represents all those who do not have another memorial place.
I cannot think of any negative things about how Westminster Abbey presents itself for tourism or worship but I guess one thing I found could be improved and that is there is no public conveniences ... the ticket seller gave me instructions to a nearby toilet, it was across an extremely busy road. Perhaps with the huge amount of people visiting here this could be addressed at some time.
When William the Conqueror walked down the main aisle of Westminster Abbey to his coronation he could never have known that a small tour party of Kiwi’s from far away New Zealand would, centuries later, take the same walk to appreciate and enjoy the ambience of such a magnificent living monument of the best of English history.
HOW TO GET THERE AND WHAT YOU WILL PAY
To get to Westminster Abbey, use the London bus service or the underground., get off at Westminster station and walk past the Palace of Westminster, from here you will see the abbey in front of you. You’ll need at least two hours to see it all and when you are ready to leave there is the convenient SHOP for you to take home a huge variety of souvenirs and mementos. You are not allowed to take photographs inside the abbey so the shop is your chance to buy some extremely interesting postcards.
WESTMINSTER ABBEY charges: Adults, GBP10. Concessions, (GBP6 under 16,students and 60 plus)Family*GBP22Verger guided tour: admission plus GBP4 (English only) Sound Guide: Admission plus GBP3, (several languages).
Opening Hours: These vary each day so phone before you visit. On Sunday’s it is worship only... no charge but no tourist visiting either.
Ph: 0044 (0)20 7654 4900 email: email@example.com
(This is also published on Ciao)
Summary: Ancient religious history for modern tourists
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