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Westminster Abbey Services and Tours
Althought I lived in London for over a year, I only visited Westminster when friends or relatives visited. My mom insisted not only on visiting during touring hours, but also on attending several services, including Christmas Eve.
We found the tours to be excellent, though by the time you pay admission and then the tour cost, it can get a bit expensive, especially for a family. The tour also takes quite a chunk of your day.
Now for the positive reasons for taking a tour. First of all, like many other churches in England without the history or background, all you get is the beautiful architecture. This is adequate for most, but after paying 7.5 pounds, you might as well pay a few more to learn what you are looking at. Besides giving an indepth history, the tour also takes you into a few places that are inaccessible to the rest of the public. Our tour guide also arranged for anyone in the tour group to sit in the choir boxes for the evening choir which my mom was thrilled about. With small tour groups they can manage to do this for some evening songs.
If you dont have time for a tour and you want to avoid the entrance fee, find out when the services are, dress appropriately, and confidently walk up to the main gate and say you are there for such and such service. They immediately let you in while hordes of other tourists stand around trying to figure out your secret. We did this three time and even with our American accents, they immediately opened the doors as services are generally open to the public.
For service times, touring times, and entrance prices, check out the website that has extensive details.
Very moving sculptures on the west façade
Westminster Abbey’s western façade always had niches above the portal, but somehow they were never filled with statues. When I was second last in London (1996), the four niches left and right of the the Great Western Door already were showing allegoric figures of traditional virtues Mercy, Truth, Righteousness and Peace. But then the ten nices above the door were still empty, however there were plans to fill these remaining niches with statues as well. On July 9, 1998 they were finally unveiled by the Archbishop of Canterbury, H.M. The Queen and H.R.H. The Duke of Edinburgh.
No words can better describe the intention behind these ten statues than the Dean and Chapter of Westminster, who wrote on their website:
…not just to commemorate saintly or worthy figures from the past, but to proclaim a message of which too few people are aware: the twentieth century has been a century of Christian martyrdom. The cost of Christian witness, and the number of Christians willing to die for what they believed (alongside others of different religious faiths or none), has been greater in this century than in any previous period in the history of the church.
These ten statues are of individual martyrs; but they are intended to represent all those others who have died (and continue to die) in similar circumstances of oppression and persecution. They are drawn from every continent and many Christian denominations. They include victims of the struggle for human rights in North and South America, of the Soviet and Nazi persecutions in Europe, of religious prejudice and dictatorial rule in Africa, of fanaticism in the Indian subcontinent, of the brutalities of the Second World War in Asia and of the Cultural Revolution in China. In these and other similar circumstances during this most violent of centuries thousands of men and women have paid with their lives for their faith and their convictions. Those represented here have left their testimony to the ultimate cost of Christian witness and to its enduring significance.
(taken from Westminster Abbey website, see link below)
This is a wonderful idea in my opinion and it also shows the very much progressive and modern attitude of the Anglican Church (compared to Roman Catholic).
The stautues are the work of Tim Crawley, Neil Simmons, John Roberts and Andrew Tanser and show (from left to right):
Maximilian Kolbe, Polish priest who was executed by the deadly brainsick Nazi terror regime in Auschwitz on August 14, 1941,
Manche Masemola (photo 5), a girl from Transvaal who converted to Christian belief and was murdered by her own parents at the age of 15 on February 4, 1928,
Janani Luwum, archbishop of Uganda, who was killed by Idi Amin’s death squadron on February 12, 1977,
Elizabeth of Russia (photo 2), born princess of Hesse Darmstadt, sister of the last Tzarina Alexandra and married to grand duke Sergej Alexandrowich. After her husband was killed, she founded Orthodox monastery Martha-Maria and was murdered by Bolsheviks the night after the Tzar family was slaughtered, July 18, 1918,
Martin Luther King, the famous civil rights movement leader was killed in Memphis April 4, 1968,
Oscar Romero, archbishop of El Salvador was killed by the death squadrons during revolution on March 24, 1980,
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (main photo), Polish Lutheranian pastor from Wroclaw was another victim of the deadly brainsick Nazi terror regime and executed on April 9, 1945,
Ester John, an Indian girl, was brutally murdered on February 2, 1060 by maybe her family for having converted to Christianity and for not obeying the force to marry a muslim husband,
Lucian Tapiedi (photo 4), a priest from Papua New Guinea who was killed by a member of Orokaiva tribe who cooperated with the Japanese during their invasion in July 1942,
Wang Zhiming (photo 3), priest of Christian belief who was executed by the deadly brainsick Mao terror regime during the cultoral revolution on December 29, 1973.
(I have created a travelogue with photos of the other statues including a photo of 1996, where the niches were still empty).
- Historical Travel
Resting place of Britain's great, good & reluctant
I have a philosophical problem with visiting Westminster Abbey (and indeed, St Paul's Cathedral), as I object to being charged to enter a place of worship. To add insult to injury, the Catholic Westminster Cathedral - just down the road - doesn't levy an entrance fee, but maybe Canterbury is harder up than Rome these days!
Having vented my spleen, Westminster Abbey is an extremely ancient and interesting building, and probably well worth the entrance fee (a stonking £15 at the time of writing in January 2011). The Abbey was founded in 960 and the current glorious Gothic structure was started in the late 13th century and has survived remarkably intact. The structure was dedicated to King Edward the Confessor, the English king whose demise triggered the Norman invasion in 1066, who was subsequently canonised, and still contains a shrine to his memory.
The Abbey is best known for being the venue for royal coronations, having been used for this purpose since 1066, when the ill-fated Harold (soon to be deposed by William the Conqueror) was crowned here. From 1301 until very recently St Edward's Chair (on which the monarch is crowned) sat on the Stone of Scone - a 152kg stone on which Scottish monarchs were traditionally crowned. This symbolism of national subjugation wasn't hard to interpret, and feelings still ran so high centuries later that it was 'liberated' by Scottish Nationalists in 1950, although it was soon recovered. It was officially returned to the Scotland in 1996 with the understanding that it would be temporarily returned to Westminster for the crowning of future monarchs.
Although the Abbey hosted the wedding of Prince William and Kate (or should I say Catherine) Middleton, it has not been the preferred venue for royal weddings over the centuries, and only two ruling monarchs have been married there.
There are an awful lot of famous dead people buried in the Abbey, including 17 ex-monarchs, so it's definitely the Place to be Seen Dead, especially if you're a literary sort! It is particularly well endowed with men of letters - the earliest being Geoffrey Chaucer who was interred here in 1400. Since then, the ranks of what became known as Poet's Corner have been swollen by literary giants such as William Blake, Robert Burns, Lord Byron, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Charles Dickens, John Dryden, George Eliot, T. S. Eliot, Thomas Gray, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Samuel Johnson, John Keats, the Brontë sisters, Rudyard Kipling, John Masefield, John Milton, Laurence Olivier, Alexander Pope, Nicholas Rowe, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Jane Austen, Thomas Shadwell, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Dylan Thomas and William Wordsworth. And in case you're wondering how they can continue to find space to accommodate all this deceased writers, a condition for the more recent occupants is that they be cremated prior to internment.
Unfortunately one or two who were afforded the privelege didn't want it: most notably Charles Dickens who had a horror of the Victorian rituals associated with death and specifically stated that he wanted to be buried at Highgate Cemetery instead (see my travel tip on what I consider to be the 'must do' tourist attraction in London). The Powers That Be were not impressed by this posthumous snub, and insisted on him being interred in Poet's Corner in the Abbey anyway, by which time he was not in a position to object!
Fascinatingly, in researching this tip, I discovered that the Abbey is classified as a 'Royal Peculiar' - as it turns out, this is not an inbred, halfwitted relative, but rather a church that falls under the jurisdiction of the monarch rather than a bishop. I just love what I learn when I'm writing on VT!
Buy an Entrance ticket to the Abbey ...
One of the oldest medieval buildings in London, this is the burial place of most of the monarchs.
Even some national figures like Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin, David Livingstone,
Sir Isaac Newton, Rudyard Kipling, Clement Attlee, William Pitt are buried here.
It is also the coronation venue of the monarchs, it all started with The Norman - William the Conqueror, coronated here on 25th of December, 1066! He managed to defeat King Harold at the Battle of Hastings, in Southern England.
Every monarch since then, including the current Queen Elizabeth II has been crowned here in an elaborate ceremony (with a few exceptions like poor Lady Jane Grey, Edward V and Edward VIII).
Princess Diana's funeral service was also conducted here.
*** Most recently (on 29/04/2011) Diana's older son William married Catherine Middleton here, and the service was broadcast throughout the world. UK had a public holiday to celebrate the occasion.)
You'll see tombs of so many Kings & Queens in the various sections, with some stones right under your feet!
Apparently, in 1612 King James VI and I had his mother's (Mary Queen of Scots - who was executed by her cousin Queen Elizabeth I in 1587) body exhumed from Peterborough Cathedral and placed in the vault of King Henry VII's Chapel in Westminster Abbey.
In short, a lot of history here!
Originally Edward the Confessor built a Benedictine monastery here in 1050 in the Romanesque style. In 1245, Henry III decided to tear it down and build a new church in the Gothic style. The facade, however, wasn't actually finished until the 1400's. So, it is in a Late Gothic style which is much more vertical. Most of the lines go up-and-down and not across. (The two towers were not built until the 1700's).
(* note: no photography allowed inside!)
- Romantic Travel and Honeymoons
- Historical Travel
Founded by Edward the Confessor in 1065, the present day WESTMINSTER ABBEY was largely built by Henry III in the 13th century.
Westminster Abbey holds a unique position in English history as both the burial place and crowning of most English Sovereigns, including the coronation of William the Conqueror and Queen Elizabeth II.
This magnificent Abbey on Parliament Square, houses countless memorials to illustrious public figures. Attractions include the Cloisters, Chapter House and Westminster Abbey Museum .
The North Entrance of Westminster Abbey is the Visitor's Entrance ( shown in small pix ).
Child 11-16 6.00
Child under 11 free
- Family Travel
located in central london westminster abbey is one of the most beautiful churches in england. westminster abbey was commissioned by edward the confessor in 1050 AD. the abbey has been expanded over the years and it's most recent addition is the west front towers built in 1745. the abbey houses the tombs of english monarchs and famous notables. edward the confessor and queen elizabeth I are entombed here. near edward the confessor's tomb is the coronation chair, constructed in 1301 it is where english monarchs have been crowned since 1308. the poet's corner contains the tombs and memorials of england's literary greats. the charter house built in the 13th century contains very interesting medieval tiles and stained glass. the abbey is a must see sight when visiting london.
- Historical Travel
- Religious Travel
This architectually magnificent masterpiece of the 13th-16th Centuries has been the site of the coronations of all of Britain's monarchs apart from two, since the crowning of William the Conquerer in 1066. It is choc-a-block with statues, effigies, and monuments to countless Medieval kings and queens who are entombed or have memorials here. It is also where many visitors pay pilgrimage to The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
House of Kings, St. Peter of Westminster
What can I say about famous The Collegiate Church of St. Peter, Westminster, known to all of us as Westminster Abbey, that hasn’t been said already? It belongs to the Church of England, but has the status of royal peculiar and is thus directly belonging to the British Sovereign.
During my recent (2008) visit in London I didn’t visit the abbey (which I now regret), but I have been inside on many occasions during previous visits to London.
The best time to visit the abbey is in the morning on a sunny day, as only then the stained glass windows in Henry VII’s Lady Chapel will show their full splendour. This part of the abbey was/is my favourite, maybe because I adore this most magnificent fan-vaulted roof in Perpendicular style (England’s late Gothic). Together with the colourful banners (with heraldic emblems) of the knights of Order of the Bath this chapel is simply radiating! Nearby, in the sanctuary, is St. Edward’s Chair on display, but protected now, as obviously many of us former visitors have left marks on it. Seing this chair, which has been used for all 38 coronations of English, British and Commonwealth sovereigns (except 2) since William the Conqueror in 1066 is quite an awed sight. Another fascinating detail, albeit big and maybe unnoticed, as it is covered often for protection as conservation work is still ongoing is the magnificent Cosmati pavement dating back to 1268.
Many royals as well as other famous people are buried in Westminster Abbey, with beautiful tombs and gravestones. My alltime favourite is the one of Isaac Newton perfectly explaining his cognition about gravity and universe. Other famous scientists buried here are Ernest Rutherford (planetary model and Noble Price in Chemistry for chemistry of radioactive substances , Robert Stephenson (Rocket, steam engine) and Charles Darwin (which I find a good demonstration of the Anglican Church’s modern approach – he has no monument in any Catholic church), then explorer David Livingstone and famous poets and musicians like Georg Friedrich Händel and of course William Shakespeare (but only a memorial, he is buried in his birthplace, Statford-upon Avon - thanks dear Ewa for reminding me :-).
I also liked the grave of the Unknown Warrior, but it took me years to understand the reason for the decoration with poppies (my school history lessons stopped at 30-Years’ War…and German schools didn’t teach about WWI and II when I was young…). Thanks to Sarah’s explanation about the poppies I know now what they mean. In my opinion it is important to learn more about this, as every foreign visitor will come across the poppies everywhere, not only at Remembrance Day (November 11 at 11:00 a.m.). The poppies are made by the Poppy Factory in Richmond, where many disabled and ex-Service connected people work.
When I was visiting Westminster Abbey in the past, brass rubbing was very popular. However, if I take it correct from the Abbey’s website, it is no longer allowed.
Westminster Abbey’s opening hours strongly depend on the day (of week or generally), but their website has a very intelligent opening hours calendar (shows the hours of the actual day). Admission fee is £12 for adults (and several reductions for groups, students, schools etc). Note that the entry is at the northern portal with different doors for cash and credit card payment. Entry to the cloister is free of charge, this can be reached via Dean’s Yard.
Coordinates on GoogleEarth:
- Historical Travel
A ten minute walk from the Houses of Parliament will bring you to Westminster Abbey, that venerable British institution. The first historic abbey on this site was built in 1050 by King Edward the Confessor, but the present Gothic style structure dates from a re-building effort carried out by successive kings over a long period between 1245-1517. A major upheavel occurred over all of England in 1534 when King Henry VIII seized all assets of the Roman Catholic church as a result of his disputes with the Pope over the King's maritial issues. However, because of the involvement of royalty in the earlier history of the Abbey, the structure was spared the destruction wrought by Henry VIII on many of the seized assets. This church is now a major British institution because, since the Norman conquest of Britain in 1066, all but three of the British monarchs have had their coronations in Westminster Abbey. The abbey is also the burial site for many of the monarchs and other famous Britons down through the centuries.
The second photo was an attempt to record some gold weather vanes at the top of the Abbey's columns, but the bright sky was not cooperating. We were getting chilly from the cold street winds and we were hungry too, so we opted not to explore further but instead headed into the Whitehall district in search of a warm pub!
- Family Travel
The Grandeur of Westminister Abbey
For almost one thousand years, Westminister Abbey has been the setting for much of London's ceremonies such as Royal Weddings, Coronations, and Funeral Services.
I personally think that it is one of the grandest pieces of architecture in the capital. It's an awesome and vast place that gleams white and pink outside but seems darker inside.
In addition, the Abbey is the parish church of the Royal Family, when in residence at Buckingham Palace. Thus, it is a Royal Peculiar (not under control of the Archbishop of Canterbury but under direct control of the Queen).
It is symbolically the entire nation's church and almost museum-like, considering the large amount of history associated with it.
I especially enjoyed seeing Poet's Corner located in the south transept because it commemorates famous authors such as Shakespeare, Milton, Chaucer (also buried here), Shelley, Dickens, & Keats as well as many others.
The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior of WWI resides here, a very poignant tomb despite its "ordinary" look.
I remember seeing Elizabeth II's Coronation at Westminister Abbey via TV in 1953. As an adolescent, I was mystified by the grandeur. At that time, I gushed about its beauty; when I saw it 40 years later, I felt the same.
Allow several hours & include seeing St. Margaret's Church & Jewel Tower.
If you love architecture as I do, then make sure you don't miss a visit to the Abbey.
Warning: no photographs inside!
Open: 9:00 am-3:45 pm, Mon-Friday
- Religious Travel
- Historical Travel
Commons’ modest parish church St. Margaret’s
Next to the famous Westminster Abbey and almost unnoticed by the constant stream of visitors is St. Margaret’s Church. It was built early 12th century and became the parish church for the House of Commons since Palm Sunday, April 17, 1614. If you look around, this becomes quite obvious, as the portcullis, symbol of Palace of Westminster, is present on many objects, such as doors and cushions. The church is very beautiful inside, partly because the white walls and pillars let the bright colours of the magnificent stained glass windows shine even more. Make sure to turn back after entering and admire the windows above the entrance portal, dedicated to Sir Walter Raleigh, famous British explorer.The windows opposite (east) show scenes of life of Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII. The southern windows were destroyed during WWII and replaced by very modest ones in pastel colour, designed by John Piper, who didn’t want his windows competing with the other, older ones.
Unfortunately photography is not allowed inside, so all I have is of the exterior and the beautiful vault of the entrance. But it is worth to notice a special feature of the belltowers: the round blue objects are no clocks, but sundials.
The church is opened for visitors, except during masses, which are published on the website below. No entrance fee applies for visiting the church.
- Historical Travel
Westminster Abbey-verger tour
Lat visit April 2014
My last couple of visits have been in April 2014 and July 2011, both times there was a bit of a queue to get in but it went pretty fast. I highly recommend the Verger Tour, just an additional £3 per ticket. The 90 minute tour is very informative and allows you access into places that the ordinary tourists can't go.
Admission is a little steep at £18, so I'd only recommend it if you have time for a proper visit. My niece was young enough to get an £6 ticket for under 18s, now £8.
After the tour you can visit the museum or go back around the Abbey at your leisure. I believe they said the Abbey ticket was good for the entire day but ask when you get there.
Centuries of history
Update March 2014: information expanded and updated, new photos added
Westminster Abbey should definitely be high on every visitor's must see list. I think is one of the two places in London where you get the greatest sense of the country's history (the Tower of London is the other). Here all British monarchs from 1066 onwards, with the exceptions only of Edward V and Edward VIII, have been crowned, many of them married and, until George II, buried. Its wealth of historic sights include the Coronation Chair, the Shrine of Edward the Confessor, the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, various Royal Tombs and the Royal Chapels.
So many of Britain's great men and women are buried here: Chaucer, Spenser, Kipling, Dickens & Tennyson with other writers in Poets' Corner; Handel, Vaughan Williams & Purcell; Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton & Robert Stephenson; Dame Peggy Ashcroft & Sir Henry Irving ... Others are buried elsewhere but commemorated here: the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, Shakespeare, Winston Churchill ... There is a full list of all who have monuments inside the abbey on the website: http://www.westminster-abbey.org/our-history/people
The abbey is mainly Gothic in style, and its proper name is actually the Collegiate Church of St Peter, Westminster - but no one ever calls it that, and very few Londoners would even recognise the name! There has been a church on this site since 616AD but the present building was started in 1045 and much added too over the following centuries, being more or less finished in the 15th. There is a good history of the different phases of its construction on the abbey's website: http://www.westminster-abbey.org/our-history/the-architecture-of-westminster-abbey
The Abbey is open to visitors on weekdays and Saturdays from 9.30-13.30 in winter months and 9.30-15.30 in the summer. Times vary a lot, so check the website below before you go - also if you'd like to attend a service. There is an entry charge of £18 (adults), £15 (students and 60+) and £8.00 (children 11-18 - under 11s go free). Prices include the use of an audio guide.
On Sunday the abbey is open only for those attending a service. There is no charge then, so as well as being a special place to worship this offers an opportunity to see inside the abbey without paying! Times of services are on the website: http://www.westminster-abbey.org/worship/daily-services/general-service-times.
- Historical Travel
- Arts and Culture
I spent 2-3 hours exploring inside the Abbey with a use of complimentary audio tour. It was built in 960 AD as a Benedictine Monastry and the Abbey has seen so many changes including The Reformation in the 1500s. The Abbey is the State's Coronation Church and this is where most of England's kings and queens are crowned. It's also a burial and memorial place for famous figures that shaped British history. It's a fascinating Abbey and highlights include the various chapels; the 14th Century Coronation Chair; The Chapter House; and Poet's Corner where a number of poets and artists are remembered and buried including Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997 and The Queen's Mother in 2002. There are daily services held at the Abbey including a tradition of prayer where each hour, for a minute, people are invited to join in or use the quiet time to contemplate.
Unfortunately, taking of photos are not pemitted inside the Abbey but you can able to purchase souvenirs including postcards at the shop.
Entrance Fee: 15 GBP (July 2010)
- Historical Travel
- Religious Travel
Coats of arms spotting in Dean’s Yard
When I was in London in summer 2008, Sarah suggested that I should not miss to visit Dean’s Yard next to Westminster Abbey. I remembered that I was there already during my previous visits to London but wanted to see it again, so I followed her advice. Please see Sarah’s description for more information about the Yard (well, Green as it is affectionally called by the students). What I liked about Dean’s Yard is that it is only a few feet away from the busy area around Westminster Abbey, but one hardly notices any hustling and bustling inside. It is a big square with huge trees around the grass and very beautiful buildings surrounding it. Mainly the outer walls of the deanery have huge windows which are overgrown with ivy, a very lovely sight (photos 3 and 4). It is also here that one can enter the cloisters of Westminster Abbey (no entrance fee applied). When I was there, the choir seemed to have had a rehearsal, so the air was filled with singing. Another feature I very much liked in Dean’s Yard is the abundance of different coats of arms on the southern and western buildings. Although I still need to identify many of them (see my separate travelogue ), one of them is very prominent: Westminster Abbey’s flag (main photo). It consists of the arms of Edward the Cofessor, the cross, surrounded by five martlets (a mythical bird) and the Tudor version of England’s Royal Arms, flanked by Tudor roses and the inscription dat deus incrementum (God grants increase – I think). Most of the crests inside Dean’s Yard are at the building to the south, Church House. They must have significances related to the Anglican Church.
- Religious Travel
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