Westminster Abbey Has The Most Impressive Collection of Tombs and Monuments:
More than 900 years after its founding, Westminster Abbey continues to attract visitors. Coronation site, royal weddings, burial ground, treasure trove and much more, over a million people come each year to explore this Westminster church and its history spanning more than a thousand years.
In many respects the Westminster Abbey architecture is common. There’s the traditional cross-shaped floor plan with a nave, north and south transepts and several round side areas. But both its execution and use raise The Collegiate Church of St Peter, Westminster (the official name) to among the highest examples of church construction.
Buried in Westminster Abbey
For, here lie buried kings and poets, scientists and philosophers who have themselves raised humankind to the highest levels. Henry III, for example, who reigned from the age of nine for 56 years, is buried in the Abbey. Much of the current structure owes its origins to his efforts.
Isaac Newton and James Clerk Maxwell (discoverer of electromagnetic theory, which later lead to radio and TV), Chaucer and Kipling, Dr. Samuel Johnson (creator of the first English dictionary) and many other justly famous names are interred here. In fact, over 3,000 people are buried in Westminster Abbey and its Cloisters.
New discoveries are still being made within its walls. As recently as 2005 the burial tomb of its founder, Edward the Confessor (Edward I) was discovered beneath a 1268 AD Cosmati mosaic. A number of other royal tombs in Westminster Abbey dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries were also found using ground penetrating radar.
A Coronation Church Since 1066
But far from being merely about the dead, here the centuries of history come alive. Still an active church, Westminster Abbey is the site of services and events for all denominations. Used for every coronation since William the Conqueror’s in 1066, pageantry combines with austerity to create an atmosphere of grandeur. The present Queen, Elizabeth II, was the last occupant of the Coronation Chair when she was crowned in 1953.
That grandeur can be seen in the enormous vaulted ceilings, typical of early Gothic design. But the artistic grandeur combines with technological brilliance. Just as one example, the support arches are not the ornate visible ones, but are actually enclosed within the thick stone roof.
The art housed by the Abbey makes the site worth visiting. Inside the west entrance is a portrait of Richard II, painted in 1390, making it one of the oldest known contemporary portraits of a British monarch.
There are several outstanding monuments in the nave, including those depicting Winston Churchill and the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior of WWI. This last was the last full-body interment in the Abbey. Only containers of ashes are allowed now.
From the Cloister, walk to the octagonal Chapter House near the Poet’s Corner, one of the earliest constructed sections, built at the time of Henry III. Here you can see the mixture of architectural styles forming the Abbey, as the result of additions made over the centuries.
Stroll over to the south transept to view the original rose window with its nearby rare medieval sculpture. Three dimensional art was often considered sinful during the period.
Then stand near the centre where the various architectural elements join and take in a 360 degree view. Almost 1,000 years of Westminster Abbey history in a brief glance, still alive and still being made.
With over 600 monuments and memorials in Westminster Abbey, visitors will benefit from the audio-guides which points them to the highlights of the Abbey. The audio-guides are free with your individual entry tickets at the North Door. There are also 90-minute Verger-led tours of the Abbey in English, for individuals or family groups.