If somebody was to ask me to stick my neck out and choose one landmark that should not be missed on a visit to London, I think I would have to say Westminster Abbey.
Although I’m not a religious person, I do enjoy visiting some of our magnificent ecclesiastical buildings, and they don’t come much more magnificent than Westminster Abbey – but that’s only half the story.
The history of the Abbey also covers an awful lot of British history, and for somebody like me who enjoys delving into the past, this building has it all, but before I expand on what’s here, I think it’s probably best to get the unpalatable stuff out of the way first, so here goes: –
It’s expensive (£23 for a full paying adult – Jan 2020) *
Photography is not permitted inside the Abbey
Can be busy
Often closed for special services
But it’s not all bad news –
*Church Services are free
There are reductions for online bookings
Also, if you travel by train, 2 for 1 tickets are on offer at certain times
I would encourage anybody not to be put off though because, providing you allow enough time (at least 2 hours), it’s money well spent in my opinion.
Entry is normally through the North Entrance which is opposite Parliament Square. Once inside you can pick up a free audio guide, or you can do the same as me and download an app before you come, which offers the same thing but with a few extras. A free map of the church will help you find your way around.
The history of Westminster Abbey goes back to the 11th century, and the building itself to the 13th century, but I’m not going into all of that here, because that information can be found elsewhere (I may add my own history later). Instead I’ll try to give a virtual tour and highlight the things that I reckon you shouldn’t miss.
The tour starts in the Nave from the poignant Grave of the Unknown Soldier.
At the other end of the Nave you can’t fail to miss Rysbrack’s monument to Sir Isaac Newton who is buried in front of it. He was a brilliant mathematician and scientist but probably best known for his law of gravitation.
Other notable people of science interred here include Michael Faraday (electricity), Ernest Rutherford (atom structure), and Charles Darwin (theory of evolution).
Also look out for the graves of former Prime Ministers Clement Attlee and Neville Chamberlain, architects Charles Barry (Houses of Parliament) and George Gilbert Scott, and finally the explorer David Livingston whose heart is buried in Zambia.
There are many others buried here but there are also plenty of memorials to famous people which can make it all a bit confusing.
The tour continues through the Quire towards the shrine of Edward the Confessor, the founder of Westminster Abbey in 1065. The shrine is not normally open for the public to see, but there are plenty of other Kings and Queens buried here. I counted seventeen including Elizabeth I and her sister Mary in the same tomb, her arch rival Mary Queen of Scots nearby, James I, Charles II and William of Orange.
Without doubt though, it’s Henry VII’s Lady Chapel that will leave the most lasting impression. The place of his burial is, in my view, one of the most fabulous architectural masterpieces from the Tudor period, especially the spectacular fan vaulting.
So far I’ve only mentioned who’s buried here, but this is the church of coronations. Every English King and Queen since 1066 has been crowned in Westminster Abbey, and before you leave make sure you don’t miss the Coronation Chair just inside the Great West Door.
Poets Corner is another thing not to miss, where Geoffrey Chaucer’s tomb was the first of forty poets and authors to be buried in the church, including Alfred Tennyson, Robert Browning, Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy.
The list of people who are buried and commemorated here goes on and on, There are some 3,300 of Britain’s most significant citizens either buried or commemorated here, which makes it the most important collection of monuments anywhere in the country.
I can’t possibly cover everything in this review, and if photography had been allowed I would have included more posts with more detailed information about this remarkable building. Even so, I hope that anyone reading this will get a flavour of what to expect.
Westminster is the centre of British politics and Royalty, and here at Westminster Abbey they are joined by the Church. However long your stay is in London I would urge you not to miss Westminster Abbey. It’s an absolute must.
The last four pictures show the Abbey floodlit for Lumiere London in 2018.