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Westminster Abbey

The Abbey's western facade

The Collegiate Church of St Peter, Westminster, which is almost always referred to as Westminster Abbey, is a mainly Gothic church, on the scale of a cathedral, in Westminster, London, just to the west of the Palace of Westminster. It is the traditional place of coronation and burial site for English monarchs.


According to tradition, a shrine was first founded here in 616 on a site then known as Thorney Island. It was said to have been miraculously consecrated after a fisherman on the River Thames saw a vision of Saint Peter. While the existence of this shrine is uncertain, the historic Abbey was built by Edward the Confessor between 1045-1050 and was consecrated on December 28, 1065. Its construction originated in Edward's failure to keep a vow to go on a pilgrimage; the Pope suggested that he redeem himself by building an Abbey.

A plan dated 1894

The original Abbey, in the Romanesque style that is called "Norman" in England, was built to house Benedictine monks. It was rebuilt in the Gothic style between 1245-1517. The first phase of the rebuilding was organised by Henry III, in Gothic style, as a shrine to honor Edward the Confessor and as a suitably regal setting for Henry's own tomb, under the highest Gothic nave in England. The work was largely finished by the architect Henry Yevele in the reign of King Richard II. Henry VII added a Perpendicular style chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary in 1503 (known as the Henry VII Lady Chapel).

Although the Abbey was seized by Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1534, and closed in 1540, becoming a cathedral until 1550, its royal connections saved it from the destruction wrought on most other English abbeys. The expression "robbing Peter to pay Paul" may arise from this period when money meant for the Abbey, which was dedicated to St Peter, was diverted to the treasury of St Paul's Cathedral. It suffered damage during the turbulent 1640s, when it was attacked by Puritan iconoclasts, but was again protected by its close ties to the state during the Commonwealth period. Oliver Cromwell was given an elaborate funeral there in 1658, only to be disinterred in January 1661 and posthumously hanged from a nearby gibbet.

The choir in 1848

The Abbey was restored to the Benedictines under Queen Mary, but they were again ejected under Queen Elizabeth I in 1559. In 1579, Elizabeth re-established Westminster as a "royal peculiar" – a church responsible directly to the sovereign, rather than to a diocesan bishop – and made it the Collegiate Church of St Peter, (that is a church with an attached chapter of canons, headed by a dean).

The abbey's two western towers were built between 1722 and 1745 by Nicholas Hawksmoor, constructed from Portland stone to an early example of a Gothic Revival design. Further rebuilding and restoration occurred in the 19th century under Sir George Gilbert Scott.

Until the 19th century, Westminster was the third seat of learning in England, after Oxford and Cambridge. It was here that the first third of the King James Bible Old Testament and the last half of the New Testament were translated. The New English Bible was also put together here in the 20th century.


Since the Christmas Day coronation of William the Conqueror in 1066, all English monarchs (except Lady Jane Grey, Edward V and Edward VIII, who did not have coronations) have been crowned in the Abbey. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the traditional cleric in the coronation ceremony. St Edward's Chair, the throne on which British sovereigns are seated at the moment of coronation, is housed within the Abbey.

Burials and Memorials

The Abbey at night, from Dean's Yard. Artificial light reveals the exoskeleton formed by flying buttresses. Henry III rebuilt the Abbey in honour of the Royal Saint Edward the Confessor whose memorial and relics were placed in the Sanctuary. Henry III was buried nearby as were the Plantagenet kings of England, their wives and relatives. Subsequently, most Kings and Queens of England were buried here, although Henry VIII and Charles I are buried at St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, as are all monarchs and royals since George II.

Aristocrats were buried in side chapels and monks and people associated with the Abbey were buried in the Cloisters and other areas. One of these was Geoffrey Chaucer, who was buried here as he had apartments in the Abbey where he was employed as master of the Kings Works. Other poets were buried around Chaucer in what became known as Poets' Corner. Abbey musicians such as Henry Purcell were also buried in their place of work. Subsequently it became an honour to be buried or memorialised here. The practice spread from aristocrats and poets to generals, admirals, politicians, scientists, doctors, etc., etc. These include:


Westminster Abbey with a procession of Knights of the Bath, by Canaletto, 1749


•Clement Attlee, 1st Earl Attlee
•Angela Georgina Burdett-Coutts
•Charles Darwin
•James Clerk Maxwell
•J.J. Thompson
•Saint Edward the Confessor
•Ben Jonson
•David Livingstone
•Sir Isaac Newton
•Ernest Rutherford, 1st Baron Rutherford
•William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin
•The Unknown Warrior
•George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham
•Ludovic Stewart, 2nd Duke of Lennox
•Thomas Tompion
•George Graham

North Transept

•William Ewart Gladstone
•William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham
•William Pitt the Younger

South Transept

The north entrance of Westminster Abbey Poets' Corner

•Robert Adam
•Robert Browning
•William Camden
•Thomas Campbell
•Geoffrey Chaucer
•William Congreve
•Abraham Cowley
•William Davenant
•Charles Dickens
•John Dryden
•Adam Fox
•David Garrick
•John Gay
•George Frederick Handel
•Thomas Hardy
•Dr Samuel Johnson
•Rudyard Kipling
•Thomas Macaulay
•John Masefield
•Laurence Olivier, Baron Olivier
•Thomas Parr
•Richard Brinsley Sheridan
•Edmund Spenser
•Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson


•Aphra Behn

North Choir Aisle

•Henry Purcell
•Ralph Vaughan Williams


Standard of Westminster Abbey

•William Shakespeare, buried Stratford-upon-Avon
•Sir Winston Churchill, buried Bladon, Oxfordshire
•Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield, buried Hughenden Manor, Buckinghamshire
•Adam Lindsay Gordon, buried Australia
•Paul Dirac, buried Florida
oOscar Wilde(in a stained glass window unveiled in 1995)[1]
•Ten 20-century Christian martyrs from across the world are depicted in statues above the Great West Door. Unveiled in 1998, these are, from left to right:
oSt. Maximilian Kolbe
oManche Masemola
oJanani Luwum
oElizabeth of Russia
oMartin Luther King, Jr.
oÓscar Romero
oDietrich Bonhoeffer
oEsther John
oLucian Tapiedi
oWang Zhiming


The following were buried in the abbey but later removed on the orders of Charles II

•Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector
•Admiral Robert Blake


Westminster School and Westminster Abbey Choir School are also on the grounds of the Abbey. Westminster School was originally founded by the Benedictine monks in 1179.Transport

•Nearest London Underground stations:
oSt. James's Park (District, Circle lines)
oWestminster (Jubilee, District, Circle lines)
List of Abbots, Deans, and the Bishop of Westminster

Westminster Abbey, as seen from the west
1049 – c. 1071

Geoffrey of Jumièges
c. 1071 – c. 1075

Vitalis of Bernay
c. 1076 – 1085

Gilbert Crispin
1085 – 1117

1121 – c. 1136

Gervase de Blois
1138 – c. 1157

Laurence of Durham
c. 1158 – 1173

Walter of Winchester
1175 – 1190

William Postard
1191 – 1200

Ralph de Arundel (alias Papillon)
1200 – 1214

William de Humez
1214 – 1222

Richard de Berkying
1222 – 1246

Richard de Crokesley
1246 – 1258

Phillip de Lewisham

Richard de Ware
1258 – 1283

Walter de Wenlok
1283 – 1307

Richard de Kedyngton (alias Sudbury)
1308 – 1315

William de Curtlyngton
1315 – 1333

Thomas de Henley
1333 – 1344

Simon de Bircheston
1344 – 1349

Simon de Langham
1349 – 1362

Nicholas de Litlyngton
1362 – 1386

William de Colchester
1386 – 1420

Edmund Kyrton
1440 – 1462

George Norwich
1463 – 1469

Thomas Millyng
1469 – 1474

John Esteney
1474 – 1498

George Fascet
1498 – 1500

John Islip
1500 – 1532

William Boston
1533 – 1540


Thomas Thirlby
1540 – 1550


William Benson (Abbot Boston)
1540 – 1549

Richard Cox
1549 – 1553

Hugh Weston
1553 – 1556

restored by Mary I of England

John Feckenham
1556 – 1559


William Bill
1560 – 1561

Gabriel Goodman
1561 – 1601

Lancelot Andrewes
1601 – 1605

Richard Neile
1605 – 1610

George Montaigne
1610 – 1617

Robert Tounson
1617 – 1620

ben Williams
1620 – 1644

Richard Steward (never installed)
1644 – 1651
(Commonwealth period)

John Earle
1660 – 1662

John Dolben
1662 – 1683

Thomas Sprat
1683 – 1713

Francis Atterbury
1713 – 1723

Samuel Bradford
1723 – 1731

Joseph Wilcocks
1731 – 1756

Zachary Pearce
1756 – 1768

John Thomas
1768 – 1793

Samuel Horsley
1793 – 1802

William Vincent
1802 – 1815

John Ireland
1816 – 1842

Thomas Turton
1842 – 1845

Samuel Wilberforce

William Buckland
1845 – 1856

Richard Chenevix Trench
1856 – 1864

Arthur Penrhyn Stanley
1864 – 1881

George Granville Bradley
1881 – 1902

Joseph Armitage Robinson
1902 – 1911

Herbert Edward Ryle
1911 – 1925

William Foxley Norris
1925 – 1937

Paul de Labilliere
1938 – 1946

Alan Don
1946 – 1959

Eric Symes Abbott
1959 – 1974

Edward Carpenter
1974 – 1985

Michael Mayne
1986 – 1996

Arthur Wesley Carr
1997 – present

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