Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey Cathedral is in the heart of London, and should be one of your main London sights to visit! The Queen and her husband, Prince Philip, took their wedding vows here in 1947. It was almost 64 years later that their grandson, Prince William, and his bride, Katherine Middleton, took their wedding vows in the Abbey!

Westminster Abbey was built by Henry III in 1245, but the site was used for many centuries before that, most notably by Edward the Confessor, an Anglo Saxon King, whose shrine can still be visited today. The Chapel containing the shrine of St. Edward the Confessor lies east of the Sanctuary at the heart of the Abbey.

Between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries, many sick people came to the shrine to pray for a cure, and you can see the steps in the recesses of the shrine base that have been worn away by the knees of pilgrims.

Perhaps more importantly, Westminster Abbey has been the Coronation Church since 1066, and you can see the Coronation chair for yourself - It's located just outside Edward the Confessor's shrine, near the steps to the Lady Chapel.

Poet's Corner is probably one of my favorite parts of the Abbey, and can be found in the South Transept. Geoffrey Chaucer, the first poet to be buried here, was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey but not because he had written the Canterbury Tales. Interestingly, it was because he had been Clerk of Works to the palace of Westminster!

Some of the most famous to be buried here include the poets John Dryden, Lord Alfred Tennyson, Robert Browning and John Masefield. Many writers, including Dr. Samuel Johnson, Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling and Thomas Hardy have also been laid to rest here.

Charles Dickens's grave always attracts particular interest. As one of the best-known English writers, he drew attention to the hardships borne by the socially deprived, and he also supported the abolition of the slave trade. More than 110 years later, a wreath is still laid on his tomb on the anniversary of his death each year.

There are also many memorials here, although they are buried elsewhere. They include the poets, John Milton, William Wordsworth, John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Robert Burns, William Blake and T.S. Eliot. Writers such as Jane Austen, Sir Walter Scott, Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte, Henry James and Sir John Betjeman have also been given memorials here.

At the west end of the Nave of Westminster Abbey is the grave of the Unknown Warrior, whose body was brought from France to be buried here on 11 November 1920. One hundred barrels of french soil was also brought back to bury him in. The black marble slab was from Belgium. The gold lettering was made from shell cases collected on the fields in France. The only Congressional Medal of Honor given outside the United States was presented to the Unknown Warrior on 17 October 1921, and you can find this hanging in a frame on a pillar nearby. What remarkable history!

One of the best ways to see the Abbey, so that you don't miss anything is by either taking a Verger-led tour or by using one of the Audio-guide tours. The London Pass also has Westminster Abbey as one of its London tourist attractions.

Verger-led tours of the Abbey are available in English for individuals or family groups only. They are led by individuals who actually work at the Abbey. They start at the North Door, last for around 90 minutes and include a tour of the Shrine (containing the tomb of St. Edward the Confessor), the Royal Tombs (17 monarchs are buried here including Elizabeth I), Poet's Corner, the Cloisters and the Nave.

The regular tours do not include as much as the Verger-led tours. Adult rates for regular tours are around $27.00. There are lower rates available for children and family. Verger tours are around $5.00 extra per person. Audio guides come free with your individual entry tickets at the North Door. They are popular with visitors who prefer to go at their own speed, but would still like some extra guidance on the history and meaning of what they see. This tour takes around one hour.

Top Tips

  • The Houses of Parliament along with Big Ben are less than a 3-minute walk away.
  • If money is tight, you can see inside the Abbey for free by attending one of the daily services such as Evensong.
  • The College Garden is thought to be the oldest garden in England, being nearly 1,000 years old. You can pick up a leaflet at the garden entrance to find out more about the garden. The College Garden is open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
  • The nearest tube station is Westminster - a 5-minute walk or St. James Park which will take you 6 minutes.

Westminster Abbey is one of the many cathedrals in London you should definitely go and see for yourself. Upon entering Westminster Abbey, you will be blown away by the Gothic splendor of this immense building - truly an amazing place to visit!

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