For 900 years, nearly every king or queen of England has been crowned in Westminster Abbey.
The Abbey was founded in the 11th century by Edward the Confessor and the strong royal link and special status have been maintained over the centuries. Many famous figures from English history are buried there.
The construction of the original Westminster Abbey is due to a vow made by Edward the Confessor, England's penultimate Saxon king. When he acceeded to the throne in 1040, Edward's councillors advised him not to make a pilgrimage to St. Peter's tomb in Rome, for political reasons. The pope, Leo IX, was prepared to absolve King of his vow if he would "found or restore a monastery to St. Peter."
The new church that Edward built to fulfill this promise was consecrated on December 28, 1065. The building site was several miles to the west of the city walls of London, hence the name, Westminster. Unfortunately, nothing remains of the original building, but from a depiction of it in the Bayeux Tapestry, it seems to have been constructed in an advanced, continental design. Only eight days after his new church was consecrated, the Confessor died. His body was interred before the high altar, and his memorial can still be seen there, today. On Christmas day, 1066, William I, the successful conqueror of England, began a tradition which has endured to this day, by being crowned in Westminster Abbey. All monarchs since then, with the exceptions of Edward V and Edward VIII have been crowned there.
After Edward the Confessor was canonized in 1139, many contributions to the Abbey were forthcomming. Each new king was eager to establish his own association with the saint. The Lady Chapel was added in 1220 by Henry III, an ardent devotee of St. Edward, and in 1245 he began completely rebuilding the church. The pace of work was brisk until his death in 1272. The newly rebuilt Abbey had a definite French "feel" to it. This Frenchness has been atributed to Henry de Reyns, who oversaw the construction untill 1253. It is not known if he was a true Frenchman or an English mason who had been trained in France, but the French influence on the Abbey is unmistakable. The nave of the church is 103 ft high, much higher than any other English church, but consistent with churches of French design. In addition, the flying buttresses and window designs are all done in the French style.
In 1376, Nicholas Littlington was in charge of further construction on the nave, funded by Simon Langham. Ricahrd II then funded work under the supervision of Henry de Yevele. Reyns' original plans were continued after nearly a century, and this gave the Abbey much of its present appearance. The Abbey has always been host to the great events in the life of Britain, the most recent of which is the funeral service of Princess Diana in September, 1997.
The Abbey is open daily from 9.30am. Sundays are for worship only.
The Cloisters are open daily from 8am until 6pm and the College Garden is open to the public on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
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Disabled access is via the North Door, where there is a small ramped step. A number of wheelchairs are freely available to use.
Large print and Braille versions of the Welcome Leaflet are available.
The Abbey is equipped with a hearing loop system which covers the whole of the main building.