Monday, November 27, 2006

Westminster Abbey - London

Front of Westminster Abbey in London

This photo of Westminster Abbey in London is part of one of the panoramic images found on the Tour of London. There are over 100 images taken from around London linked to an interactive map.

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Westminster Abbey is another very popular attraction in London. The Abbey is very close to the Houses of Parliament (Palace of Westminster), Big Ben and Westminster Cathedral (a Catholic Cathedral) and Westminster Central Hall (Methodist place of worship). Westminster Abbey is both a huge construction with a similarly long history. Unfortunately for those visiting, photography and filming is not allowed within the Abbey or the adjoining St. Margaret’s Church. Equally, Westminster Abbey does not participate in London Pass offers.

The whole area owes it’s name to the Abbey, as it was called the West Minster to distinguish it from St Paul’s (East Minster) in the City of London. This name then became associated with the area around the Abbey, which is now known as Westminster.

The history of Westminster Abbey may date back to 616 when a shrine is supposed to have been built on what was then known as Thorn Island. By the mid 900s a community of Benedictine monks was established here by Saint Dunstan with the help of King Edgar. In the 11C Edward the Confessor built a stone abbey here, and it was consecrated in 1065 just before he died and was buried under the high altar. Harold was then crowned in the abbey, the (last) Anglo Saxon king of Britain, being killed by William in 1066. The only picture of the Abbey from this Norman period is that shown in the Bayeux Tapestry.

The next building phase was started by Henry III around 1245 and took some 300 years to complete, providing the highest Gothic Nave in England, and a much elaborated shrine to Edward the Confessor. Henry VIII assumed control of Westminster Abbey in 1539, granting it Cathedral status and sparing it from dissolution or destruction.

Thereafter the Abbey was caught in a religious game of ping pong, with the various monarchs changing the status of the building depending on whether they were Royalist Protestant, Catholic or non-Royalist Protestant. Thus made a Cathedral by Henry III, the Abbey’s control reverted to Benedictine Monks under Queen Mary (Catholic), only to be ejected again on the ascendancy of Queen Elizabeth I to the throne in 1559. It was threatened with destruction by Puritans wanting to destroy religious icons, but protected by the Sate under Oliver Cromwell, who was buried there in 1658 (only to be disinterred and hanged nearby and then beheaded in 1661 when the Royalists regained power).

Thankfully, Westminster Abbey survived all these upheavals and remains to play an important part in the British heritage. The Abbey has been the location of almost every coronation since 1065, with the new monarch being crowned seated on King Edward’s Chair, which dates from 1296. (The chair also contained the Stone of Scone, upon which Scotish Monarch had been seated until it’s capture by the English in 1297, and finally returned to Scotland in 1996.). Westminster Abbey is also the location of Royal Funerals, and a great number of Kings and Queens of England lie buried within.

There is so much that could be written about the various tombs, statues and other artifacts within Westminster Abbey, but there is not sufficient space here.

The nearest tube stations to Westminster Abbey include Westminster and Victoria.

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The full panoramic image taken of Westminster Abbey can be found on the London tour by An enlargement of this photo can be found on Flickr.

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