Westminster Abbey

Take a walk in the footsteps of Britain’s Kings and Queens in some of their most important moments - a place where history was made for over 900 hundred years!


What Is Westminster Abbey?

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One of the most famous and well recognised religious buildings in the world, Westminster Abbey has over 900 years of history. It’s official title is the Collegiate College of St Peter, Westminster and is situated in the centre of London.

Neither a cathedral nor a parish church, the Abbey is referred to as a Royal Peculiar - meaning it is subject only to the Monarch and not any Bishop or Archbishop.

It is a church for regular worship as well as hosting some of the UK’s major events including Royal weddings and burials of important and noteworthy British citizens and Monarchs.

front view of Westminster Abbey


A Brief History Of Westminster Abbey

history

Westminster Abbey started life as a small Benedictine Monastery close to the Royal Palace of King Edward the Confessor. Edward (later canonised as St Edward the Confessor) enlarged the buildings, forming a large stone church in homage to St Peter the Apostle.

It was known as the ‘west minster’ to differentiate between it and the ‘east minster’ (also known as St Paul’s Cathedral).

Origin of the Abbey

The church was consecrated on the 28th December 1065 with the King too ill to attend. He died a short time later and was buried in a tomb in front of the High Altar within the Abbey.

William the Conqueror’s coronation ceremony was the first coronation to be performed at the Abbey on Christmas Day in 1066.

The next significant event occurred in 1161 when the body of St Edward the Confessor was moved (post canonisation) to a different tomb which encompassed a shrine to this new saint.

Westminster Abbey through the Ages

In the middle of the 13th century King Henry III rebuilt the Abbey as we mainly see it today in the new Gothic style that was common at the time.

There was much influence from French architecture and some major churches in both France and England were built in this period (Salisbury, Winchester and Canterbury). This newly rebuilt church was consecrated in 1269.

The addition of the Lady Chapel was completed and consecrated in 1516 by Henry VII with the next major enhancement to the Abbey being the completion of the Western Towers in 1745 (these had been left unfinished since medieval times).

Minor alterations and upgrades to the Abbey have been completed over the years by various monarchs, including additions to, and replacements of, the many stained glass panels in the windows.

The Abbey was badly damaged during the bombings of London in World War II but restoration of the buildings were completed soon after the war ended.

During the time of the English reformation the Abbey was changed from a monastery to a Cathedral church (by Henry VIII in 1540), restored back to the Benedictine monastery (by Mary I in 1556) and then, with the removal of the Abbot and monks, turned into a Collegiate Church (by Elizabeth I in 1560).

Elizabeth reaffirmed the Abbey’s status of ‘Royal Peculiar’ which refers to the fact that the church belongs directly to the Monarch and not the bishops or archbishops of the local diocese.

Burials

Many notable people are buried at the Abbey, around 3300 in total, from a number of different backgrounds.

Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens, Laurence Olivier and the Unknown Warrior are just a few examples with the most recent burial being Stephen Hawking, the world renowned physicist, who was buried here in 2018.

17 Monarchs are also buried here - the first being Edward the Confessor and the last being George II in 1760.

Weddings & Coronations

The first wedding to take place at the Abbey was King Henry I who married Princess Matilda of Scotland in 1100.

A number of Royals have since married here including the current Queen Elizabeth II and more recently the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (William and Catherine) in 2011.

Getting married at the Abbey is restricted to members of the Royal family or members of the Order of the Bath.

Since Edward the Confessor, every subsequent British Monarch has been crowned at Westminster Abbey (apart from Edward V and Edward VIII who were not crowned) - the most recent being Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.

In 1987 Westminster Abbey became classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site along with The Palace of Westminster and St Margaret’s Church.


Westminster Abbey photo montage

Key Features

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The Nave

The Nave is situated at the western end of the Abbey where many people are buried, along with numerous memorials. The Nave is an example of Gothic architecture and was completed in 1517 - the roof is an impressive 31 metres high.

The Chapter House

Set in the East Cloister, this was a traditional meeting place for the Benedictine Monks that originally lived here and its building was completed around 1255. It has tiered seating, a central pillar under a vaulted ceiling and original wall paintings dating from around 1390 which depict the Apocalypse.

The King’s Great Council was held here in 1257 which was essentially the start of the English Parliament. Also in a passage leading to the Chapter House there is what is thought to be Britain’s oldest door dating from approximately 1050.

The Cloisters

Where the Monks would have spent much of their time, the Cloisters were busy links to access the main monastic buildings (primarily the Nave).

Damaged in a fire in 1298, these were rebuilt between the 13th and 15th centuries. Each Cloister is approximately 100 feet in length and surrounds a grassed quadrangle (garth).

The Coronation Chair

Classed as one of the most famous and important pieces of furniture in the world, the Coronation Chair resides in the Abbey and has seen over 700 years of Coronations.

In 1296 Edward I took the Stone of Scone (traditionally thought to have originated in the middle east and referred to in the bible) from Scotland, brought it to the Abbey and commissioned an oak chair to be made to contain the stone in around 1300.

Since 1308 the chair has been used in all coronation ceremonies for British Monarchs including the current Queen, Elizabeth II. The stone has since been returned to Scotland but will be brought back to the Abbey as and when needed for the next coronation.

The Lady Chapel

Henry VII commissioned the building of this lavish chapel in 1503 which was finished, after his death, in 1516. It is a beautiful example of late medieval architecture, amazing visitors with its fan-vaulted ceiling, 95 statues of various saints and stained glass windows.

15 Kings and Queens are buried here including Elizabeth I and Charles II and since 1725 Knights of the Order of the Bath have been installed within the Chapel.

Poets’ Corner

More than 100 poets and writers have been buried or have memorials in their name in this part of the Abbey. From early poets such as Geoffrey Chaucer (author of the Canterbury Tales) to more recently Ted Hughes (Poet Laureate from 1984 to 1998).

Pyx Chamber

Built around 1070, the Pyx Chamber is one of the oldest surviving parts of the original Abbey. Still with the original 11th century tiled floor this low vaulted chamber is part of the Undercroft and is located off the East Cloister. It has had a variety of uses over the years such as a treasury and a sacristy

The Queen’s Window

To celebrate the reign of the current British Queen, artist David Hockney was commissioned to design a large stained glass window to be installed at Westminster Abbey. This was completed and installed in 2018 and this vivid masterpiece can be seen in the North transept of the Abbey.

The Quire

Music has been an incredibly important part of the Abbey every day for over a 1000 years and the Quire (or Choir) stalls have held daily songs from the 10th century monks to the Abbey choristers of the present day.

The original medieval stalls were replaced in the 18th century with the current ones installed in 1848. The marble floor originates from 1677.

Grave of the Unknown Warrior

At the west end of the Nave lies the grave of the Unknown Warrior. Four bodies of unnamed British soldiers were exhumed in 1920 from First World War battlefields in France and Belgium.

One of these was randomly selected and brought to Britain to be buried in the Abbey as a representation of all those that died and were buried unknown. The soldier was laid to rest on Armistice Day of the same year in front of King George V.

The grave contains soil from France and the marble gravestone placed above is made from Belgian marble.

The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries

The Galleries are a medieval space (a 13th century triforium ) situated 16metres high above the main Abbey and provide fantastic views of the Abbey, and beyond, on the way up to access them. Within the Galleries are displays of some of the Abbey’s many treasures such as religious relics and original documents.


Fun Facts About Westminster Abbey

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  • Around 60,000 sandbags were used in the Abbey during World War II to protect the immovable tombs and memorials.
  • The Abbey is home to Britain’s oldest door! Dating from around 1050 it is thought to be the only surviving Anglo Saxon door in the country.
  • The 152kg Stone of Scone was removed from Scotland by Edward I in 1296 and taken to the Abbey where it was placed under the Coronation Throne. This was stolen from the Abbey in 1950 by four Scottish students in a Ford Anglia car!
  • Ben Jonson, a 17th century poet, is buried in the Abbey standing up - the only person to have been buried like this here.
  • The floor area of the Abbey is approximately 32,000 square feet.
  • There is a statue of a bearded lady, St Wilgefortis, in the Lady Chapel. The story of this saint is that she prayed to be ‘disfigured’ so she would not have to marry the man that her father wanted her to.

Westminster Abbey Visitor Information

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The Abbey is open the majority of the year but major religious holidays are the exception. The Abbey’s website can be consulted for individual opening day amendments. Times are as follows:

  • Monday to Friday 10am - 2pm (last entry)
  • Saturday 9am - 1pm (last entry)

Visiting the Abbey takes around 2 hours and visiting ends one hour after the last entry time.

Tickets and Pricing

Currently timed half hour slots are available to pre-book via the website. Tickets are non-refundable when booked online and can be purchased from: www.westminster-abbey.org

Main Abbey entrance fee

  • Adults £18
  • Children (6-17 years old) £7
  • Family ticket - 1 adult and 1 child £18

Queens Diamond Jubilee Gallery

  • Adult £5
  • Children (6-17 years old) Free

Children 5 years old and younger do not need tickets for entry to the above.

Hidden Highlights Tour

(Gallery tour is included in this ticket and does not need to be booked separately). For ages 15 years and upwards. Children aged 15-17 must be accompanied by an adult.
All tickets £15.

There is no charge to attend a service at the Abbey.

Guides

A multimedia audio guide available to hire (£5 per device) for adults and children 6 years old and above. Available in 14 languages along with a British Sign Language version also.

A Family Tour version is also available for children aged 6-12 years old along with an audio descriptive tour for those who are visually impaired.

A Verger guided tour can be taken which is an additional £10 on top of the ordinary admission price. This tour can only be booked upon entry to the Abbey on the day of visit and is restricted to specific dates only (as stated on the website).

This includes areas not normally accessible when visiting alone. There is a limit of 6 people per tour and is in English only.

entrance to Westminster Abbey

There are security checks to gain entrance to the Abbey - bags are checked upon entering and no large bags/left luggage are allowed.

Disabled access

There are some parts of the Abbey that are inaccessible to those in wheelchairs and those with limited mobility and entrance is therefore free for them and any carers that accompany them.

Access can be gained to the building via the North Door where there is a ramp to access. There are wheelchairs available to borrow - speak to a member of staff upon arrival.

There is lift access to the Galleries if required. Guide, hearing and assistance dogs are all welcome and for those with hearing impairment there is a hearing loop system within the main part of the Abbey.

There are accessible toilets and baby change facilities in the Cloisters. Buggies are welcome within the Abbey but it must be noted that there are steps to access certain parts of the church (for example to the entrance to the Lady Chapel).

Facilities

Cellarium cafe and terrace serves hot meals, sandwiches, afternoon tea, drinks and alcohol. It is open 8am-4pm when the Abbey is open for visitors.

The Kiosk is located outside near the West doors and serves light meals, snacks and hot and cold drinks.

The gift shop is open when the Abbey is open to visitors and also on a Sunday.

Please see the ‘Entry times’ page on the website for the varying and up to date opening and closing times for the food and gift places at the Abbey.

Smoking is not permitted anywhere within the Abbey.

Non-flash photography for personal use is allowed in the main parts of the Abbey however there is no flash-photography, videoing, extra lighting, selfie sticks or tripods allowed at any time.
No photography is permitted at all during any services, on any part of the Hidden Highlights tour or in the shrine of Edward the Confessor, St Faith’s Chapel or the Queens Diamond Jubilee Galleries.


Location

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Westminster Abbey is situated on the north bank (where Westminster bridge connects to the north shore) of the River Thames located in the City of Westminster in central London, UK.

The Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament) lie to the east of the Abbey, Buckingham Palace is less than a mile to the west, while St Thomas’ hospital sits across the river.

St Margaret’s Street runs between the Abbey and the Palace of Westminster whilst Great Smith Street sits to the west and Great College Street to the south.

How To Get There

By Underground

The nearest underground station to the Abbey is Westminster (Jubilee, District and Circle lines) which is only a 5 minute walk. St James Park station (District and Circle lines) is also around a 5 minute walk.

By Train

The nearest overground main train stations are London Waterloo and London Victoria (both approximately 5 minutes walk) which take you out of the City and to many parts of the UK.

By Bus

Bus numbers 11, 24, 148, 211, N11, N44 and N136 all serve Westminster Abbey along with a variety of Tour Bus operators that stop in the vicinity.

By Car

Driving in central London is not recommended due to lack of, and price of, parking and also due to the congestion charge which applies to vehicles entering this central zone. However if it is necessary to drive, the nearest car park to Westminster Abbey is Q-Park Westminster located off Great College Street in Abingdon Street Gardens (SW1P 3RX).


Where To Stay

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Due to the location of the Abbey there are numerous options for accommodation in the central London vicinity. From hostels and budget hotel options all the way through to five star luxury, there are many places to stay.


Other Things To Do Nearby

things to do near Westminster Abbey

Central London, by its nature as a capital city, has many attractions to see and things to do. Just a few of the many options available in the vicinity of the Abbey are:


Frequently Asked Questions

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Is Westminster Abbey Catholic or Protestant?

Westminster Abbey is an Anglican Church which is a subtype of Protestant teachings.

What time is Westminster Abbey open?

Westminster Abbey is open as a general rule (religious holidays are an exception) Monday to Friday 10am - 2pm and Saturday 9am - 1pm.

Can you get into Westminster Abbey for free?

There are only two ways to enter Westminster Abbey for free.

Attending a church service within the Abbey is free to all and also anyone with mobility issues who would not be able to access all of the Abbey can enter for free via the North Door.

Who is buried at Westminster Abbey?

There are around 3300 people buried at Westminster Abbey. Many are notable people who have excelled in their field, along with 17 British Monarchs.

What scientists are buried at Westminster Abbey?

There are many scientists that are buried at Westminster Abbey. Some of the more famous and well known names include Charles Darwin, Stephen Hawking and Sir Isaac Newton.

What musicians are buried at Westminster Abbey?

There are a number of musicians that are buried at Westminster Abbey. Some of the more famous examples are Ralph Vaughan Williams and George Handel.

What Royals are buried at Westminster Abbey?

There are a number of members of Royal families through the ages that have been buried at Westminster Abbey. 17 Monarchs are buried there including Elizabeth I and Edward the Confessor.

Is Shakespeare buried at Westminster Abbey?

No, William Shakespeare is not buried at Westminster Abbey. But Charles Dickens is.

Is there a dress code for Westminster Abbey?

There is no specific dress code for visiting Westminster Abbey however as it is a place of worship it is asked that you show some sensitivity and respect with how you dress.

Men are asked to remove hats whilst within the Abbey and in the winter the temperature can be quite cold therefore warm clothing is recommended. Sensible footwear is also recommended due to uneven flooring in the church.

Are there monks at Westminster Abbey?

There have been no monks at Westminster Abbey since 1559 when Elizabeth I changed it to an Anglican church..

Who is buried standing up at Westminster Abbey?

Ben Jonson, a 17th century poet, is buried standing up at Westminster Abbey.

Can anyone get married at Westminster Abbey?

No, not just anyone can get married at Westminster Abbey. You either need to be a member of the Royal family or a member of the Order of the Bath.

The rest of us will need to look for another venue!

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