Over A Thousand Years Of History
Westminster Abbey, constructed during Medieval Times in London is one of the Main Tourist Attractions in London. It is also the resting place of several Medieval Kings and Tudors.
It is considered to be an iconic landmark of London, but it is more than just a landmark. It is a Church, built for the Glory of God, in which resides a Treasure Chest of a Nation’s past.
A past which unfolds to reveal more than a thousand years of history woven into its very fabric. From it’s consecration in 1065 through the Medieval Times in London, right up to the present day, it has been the place where the coronations of the English kings and queens have taken place.
Ever since 1066, when the Medieval Kings began the process,every English Monarch has been crowned at the Abbey, with the exception of four, these are Queen Matilda, Edward V, Lady Jane Grey and Edward VIII. However, none were buried there until Henry III.
Henry III of England, was an intense devotee of St. Edward the Confessor and began the re-construction of the Abbey in Anglo-French Gothic style in 1245. The centrpiece of the re-construction being a shrine to the Confessor. His remains were immediately transferred there when the shrine was completed.
At the beginning of the 13th century it had been Henry’s wish to be buried in the Church of the Knights Templar, the Temple Church, just off Fleet Street. He therefore had the Temple choir demolished in the original Church and a larger structure, the Chancel, was built.
Westminster Abbey, together with The Palace of Westminster, The Clock Tower of Big Ben, and St.Margaret’s Church, are all built on what was once a small island.
Thorney Island, as it was called, was formed by the river Tyburn splitting into two streams just before it flowed into the River Thames. It was on this island that Westminster Abbey was consecrated on 28 December 1065.
According to tradition however, a church was founded on the island many centuries before the Abbey was built. Sulcard, a monk who lived in the Abbey in the last part of the 11th century, about the year 1180, was the first to report on it, in a work he was compiling. This work he called, Prologue to the Building of Westminster, dedicated to the Abbot of Bernay.
The Prologue, relates to the history of the Abbey, beginning with the founding of the first Church on Thorney Island, in the time of Mellitus, The Bishop of London-which was about the year 620?-by a wealthy Londoner and his wife, and concludes with the dedication of the new Church which was built by King Edward the Confessor and consecrated in 1065.
In his prologue, Sulcard wrote an account of the tradition handed down, that St. Peter the Apostle himself, had dedicated the first Church, when he appeared in a vision to a local fisherman, and as a reward to the fisherman for rowing him across the River Thames to the island, St. Peter had given him a large salmon.
We do know, however that in the years 950 – 960 King Edgar had allowed St. Dunstan to establish a monastic settlement here, comprising a community of Benedictine Monks.
As you wander around the magnificent Westminster Abbey Church, you can sense its history and the living pageant it has become.
Inside can be found the tombs of many of our illustrious predecessors, with over 3000 of them buried here, there are also 600 monuments and memorials to the deceased.
Kings and Queens are buried here as are, soldiers, poets, actors, statesmen, heroes, priests and yes, even villains
Here too can be found The Tomb of The Unknown Soldier, wherein lies an unknown British Soldier, whose remains were brought over from a European Battlefield at the end of The First World War. It is the only tomb in the Abbey, where no-one is allowed to set foot on.
A similar operation was held at exactly the same time in France, when the remains of an unknown French Soldier were interred, making both countries the first to honour the unknown dead of World War I.
The Battlefields the Soldiers were taken from, have never been revealed, in order that The Unknown Soldier, may forever be a reminder to us all, of the Supreme Sacrifice, they make, whoever they may be, and wherever they may fall.
If you find Westminster Abbey interesting, you may also like the church of St. Bartholomew the Great at Smithfield, which was founded at the same time as the nearby St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, fondly known as St. Barts Hospital London.
They were both founded in 1123 by Rahere, an Augustinian canon after he had a terrifying Supernatural experience. Originally built as a Priory church, St. Bartholomew the Great has one of the finest Norman interiors to be found anywhere.
It has a long history of miracles, which were witnessed and recorded, along with an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as having taken place there.
Most of the Priory buildings, along with the nave of the church were destroyed, in the widespread Desecrations and Destructions that took place during, what went under the name of, the Dissolution of the Monasteries by King Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell. Cardinal Wolsey played only a small role at the very beginning.
However, the church, along with Westminster Abbey, were among the few that survived.
It was allowed to become a parish church and is now a place of utmost peace and tranquility, amid the hustle and bustle of the city life surrounding it.
We also recommend, in addition to the main and well known Tourist Attractions of London, the lovely London Churches
These gems by Christopher Wren, not all of which are situated within the Old Square Mile, are certainly worth a visit.