Medieval churches. Abbeys. Gothic buildings. They all have three things in common; the architecture, the history and the people. Discover more than 900 years of life in the Abbey in the City of Westminster. Explore tombs, burials and memorials from the British monarchy, British politicians, scientists, writers and poets. Shakespeare, Stephen Hawking, Queen Elizabeth I, King Richard II, Charles Darwin, Sir Isaac Newton, Goeffrey Chaucer and many more. Learn about the Nave, the Quire, the ceilings and windows and the architecture that goes with it. Read more about the secrets of Westminster Abbey here.
“How the hell did they construct abbeys and churches so beautifully? The intricate detail of chiselling stones into small patterns, the way they carved religious crosses and make them identical to one another. The several rows of small curved lines in an archway above their main doors. “How did they combine multi-coloured glassed windows in different and turn them into picture stories?” All these thoughts ran through my mind. I wasn’t planning on going inside, but I knew the Abbey has been standing tall since 1066. I was curious to know what lies inside the Abbey.
When I went to see Westminster Abbey, it was during the time I did a post on London in 24 hours (see my 1 day in London itinerary here).
Westminster Abbey is in the heart of Central London, in the City of Westminster and it’s very convenient getting there. Take the tube to Westminster and it will be right in front of you. Not only that, it’s next to Big Ben, the River Thames and the London Eye. Across Westminster Bridge, the other side of the River Thames, it will take you to the strip of Southbank.
You can either take a long stroll on the Southbank or find 14 Things to do in the Southbank.
There are no photos allowed inside so I’d be as descriptive as possible.
The entry ticket is£22 on the door and £21 online. The queue can be long but moved swiftly.
How to navigate the Abbey
A pair of headphones and an interactive small iPad are given to you as you enter the building. Select any languages you prefer if English isn’t your first language. You can find a private tour guide but personally, it’s better to take the pair of headphones and explore the Abbey as you please.
The items in the Abbey are numbered and, on the iPad, select the item number you see in front of you, that way, you know you’ve covered every area of the Abbey. For example, to learn more about King Richard III’s tomb, look at the number of his tomb, find it on the iPad, listen to the audio of why, how and when he died.
Upon entering Westminster Abbey, I felt grateful and lucky to be surrounding by many tombs, memorials and statues of famous British people. They have impacted the world and our lives for more than a thousand years. Many British inventions, scientific, historical and mathematic discoveries were found by the Brits and it is here, that their tombs lay in front of us.
At the top of the entrance, there are various 20th Century martyrs perfectly carved from stone. It’s as if they’re looking down on us, blessing us as we enter the Abbey.
Inside the Abbey
The first thing I noticed was the many coloured 18th Century stained glass windows. They were created to make patterns and shapes into human figures, telling stories behind it. At times, sunrays reflect the glass windows providing the Abbey inside with a strip of beautiful rainbows.
The second thing I noticed was the sound of the choir. The rich, yet peaceful hums of the choir vibrates harmoniously like the sound of gentle waves at the beach. To this day, Westminster Abbey is still a place of worship and people coming together.
Inside Westminster Abbey
The Coronation Chair
This chair has been the most important piece of furniture for coronations in Britain for more than 700 hundred years and was ordered by King Edward I in 1296.
The wooden chair has four gold painted lions as its legs. 90% of the gold vanished from the rest of the chair. Several four-leafed clover shaped holes decorated above the lions. It was thought the clovers were to mark good luck and fortune for whoever sat on this chair. It’s astonishing how detailed the chair has been carved but there are no cushions or pillows attached to the seat. I imagine the hundreds of kings and queens sitting on the chair and how lucky the chair must feel. Read more about the Coronation chair here.
The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior
Surrounded by hundreds of poppies, the burial of an Unknown Warrior is seen here. Poppies mark Remembrance Day of the British soldiers who fought in the First and Second World Wars and the nation celebrates it every year in Whitehall.
The gold inscription in capital letters say: “Beneath this stone rest the body of a British Warrior. Unknown by name or rank. Brought from France to lie among. The most illustrious of the land. And buried here on Armistice Day. 11 Nov: 1920, in the presence of. His Majesty King George V. His ministers of State. Thus are commemorated the many. Multitudes who during the Great. War of 1914-1918 gave the most that. Man can give life itself. For God. For King and country. For loved ones home and empire. For the sacred cause of justice and. The freedom of the world. They buried him among the kings because he. Had done good toward God and toward his house.” A strong message indicates he was an important soldier who did a lot for the nation and to respect those who died in the war. Read about the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior here.
The marble-stoned effigies of past British scientists from the 17th Century to the present. Carved and polished into perfection, down to the small detail of robes worn and the small curls and waves on their hair.
The many faces were carved and shaped to look as if they were important. The angles of the way they turn their heads upright. It was as if their face expressions spoke to me, “I’m important, please remember me for my work.” Descriptions underneath written in Latin, in which it translates into old, aristocratic English “here lies what was mortal of Isaac Newton” along with other Latin written marble slabs. Alongside Isaac Newton, ashes of Stephen Hawking and Charles Darwin are also buried here.
Join choral services daily here. The Quire has been playing music for more than a thousand years till this day. The gold patterns above the benches were shaped into 21 similarly looking high backed chairs of a throne in front of blue wallpaper; 21 holes shaped into stars and 3 leafed clovers were made at the top. Small identical patterns carved with precision, it is unimaginable what tools were used to create small shapes within the patterns.
On opposite sides of each other, there are two rows of long benches for the choir boys to sit on, several red small lamps placed along the benches, lights still on. Small clover shaped patterns carved on the back. The black and white squared marble floor were created to look like a giant diamond shaped chessboard. It did look like a proper quire. Read more about the Quire here.
The High Altar and the Cosmati Pavement
The Cosmatis was a Roman family made up of seven members who designed church floors into geometric mosaics. They were also church architects and sculptors working together to design the most beautiful art. The Cosmati Pavement is now here brought into the Abbey.
The small dark shades of red porphyry, green serpentine, white mosaics and different coloured marbles are used to create 4 big circular shapes on each of the 4 sides of a large diamond in the middle. Circles were created using mosaics inside the diamond. 4 figure-of-eights were designed on the 4 edges of the pavement and mosaic rectangles were created between the 4 figure-of-eights. This shows dedication, patience and talent from the family.
The tombs of medieval kings and queens
Here in the Abbey, you will find various tombs of British kings and queens from as early as the 13th Century. The tomb includes King Edward the Confessor and Henry III.
King Edward the Confessor was one of the Anglo-Saxon kings of England. He reigned between 1042 – 1066. He was married to Queen of England Edith of Wessex during the duration of his reign.
What’s fascinating is the structure and the architecture the tomb was designed. The tomb closed and surrounded by a 2-foot 4×4 golden fence. An altar table covered in a blue and green sheet is placed next the to the stoned tomb. 2 tall white candles sits on the table with their silver candle holders and a silver cross. Around eight 8-foot tall candles surrounding the tomb. The 20-foot-tall tomb is distinguishable to the rest of the simple 2.5 feet high golden tombs of kings’ and queens’ surrounding it. His tomb sits tall in the middle of the Abbey.
The stoned tomb is beautifully decorated by the Cosmati family with different shades of mosaic brown beige diamonds and circles. 6 dome-shaped archways were created along the tomb. Above the 10 feet tomb, sits 2 green building structures on top of each other with several archways built around them.
The way they designed the tomb, it shows King Edward the Confessor was an important figure in the 11th Century. He built the Abbey and was made a Saint, healing the community. He was called “Confessor” because he was a very holy, religious man who would often go to church to confess his sins. You can read the description of the tombs here.
The tombs of Elizabeth I and Mary I
These two princesses were the daughters of King Henry VIII with his 6 wives. Elizabeth’s mother was Anne Boleyn and Mary’s mother was Katherine of Aragon.
Mary I is in line with the Tudor family and was the Queen of England and Ireland between 1553 – 1558. She was married to Philip of Spain during the duration of her reign.
Elizabeth I was next in line to the throne after Mary I. She was also the Queen of England and Ireland from 1553 – 1603, also the year of her death but Elizabeth was never married. She was the last line of the Tudor house and was known as the Virgin Queen.
The architecture of both their tombs are fascinating. Both Mary and Elizabeth’s white marbled tombs are placed next to each other surrounded by shiny black marbled pillars. It was like as if they were caged animals to be protected. Gold décor complements the top of the marbled ceilings and white lions underneath.
Several small red and blue monarchy house badges surrounds the top of the tombs and a Latin inscription of who lies in the tomb inside could be found at the top. They were both beautifully decorated with white, gold and black marbles to show power, wealth and strength in the community.
The location of their tombs were placed privately, the pathway to their tombs were narrow to control how many people can see them, away from crowds of visitors.
Read about Princess Mary I here.
Read about Princess Elizabeth I here.
The Lady Chapel and tomb of Henry VII
This 16th Century Henry VII Chapel is still used to this day for services. As I stepped inside the Lady Chapel, it felt I stepped back in time and couldn’t wait to hear the many stories happening here. When I heard the stories on my interactive guide, I could imagine myself being in the story. The feeling it elicits was completely different reading them on the website because I was physically in the room as the stories were told.
The first thing I noticed when I stepped inside The Lady Chapel were the small complicated geometric shapes above the bright cream ceiling complemented with gold pendants and the intricate dark wooden décor above the seats to the left and right of the chapel.
The high ceiling, the many bright multi-coloured banners representing personal identifications of different armies and soldiers and the bright atmosphere felt I stepped inside a grand room. It was as if I was at a ball.
The long walk from the entrance to the other side of the chapel felt like I was walking down the aisle at my own wedding.
The multi coloured stained-glass windows depicting pictures and stories were hard to make out from the bottom but shouldn’t be taken for granted.
The many martyrs carved at the top of the chapel looked down on us, it felt as it they’re blessing us once again.
Read all about The Lady Chapel here.
Because of my love of classic English Literature, I couldn’t wait to get to Poet’s Corner. When I finally reached this area, I felt like I wanted to kiss the grounds poets were buried in. Since English has been an international language spoken worldwide to this day, I couldn’t imagine the work British poets played since the 18th – 19th Century and how they’ve have been praised internationally for their work throughout history.
Like Scientists’ Corner, here lies marble-stoned effigies of past British poets from the 19th Century to the present. They were carved and polished into perfection, down to the small detail of robes worn and the small curls and waves on their hair. The only difference is the many marbled books and scrolls were created next to the effigies.
Like Scientists’ Corner, the many faces were carved and shaped to look as if they were important. The angles of the way they turn their heads upright. It was as if their face expressions spoke to me, “I’m important, please remember me for my work.” Descriptions underneath written in Latin, in which it translates into old, aristocratic English along with other Latin written marble slabs.
The first thing I noticed was the tomb and memorial of Geoffrey Chaucer.
Geoffrey Chaucer has always been my favourite poet. If you’ve read some of his work, I found he uses lyrical and melodic tones to his prose as well as his ability to translate Latin and French into Old English. I also found that he’s one of many 19th Century poets that has been applauded for his achievements by critics. The wits and charm he uses into his art makes him distinguishable than any other poets out there. Alongside Goeffrey Chaucer, here also lies effigies and memorials of Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Thomas Cambell and many others. Read more of Poet’s Corner here.
The Cloisters are where a lot of monks meditate and exercise and once was the busiest part of the Abbey. This was also a route to get to the monastic buildings.
Like the Lady Chapel, as I walked from one end to the other part of one of the Cloisters, I felt I was going to walk down the aisle of my own wedding. When I walked on the 1000-year-old stones the ground and touching the walls, I felt a part of the monk community. In my head, I could see black robes worn by the monks. I could hear high and low humming noises monks make as they meditate and pray. I could hear the crowd of voices as they exercise together 1000 years ago. I could imagine the hustle and bustle that went on within the Cloisters.
Although I didn’t see the rest of the cloisters, it should not be forgotten. In addition, the cloister garth is kept well maintained and what you see in pictures is what you see in real life. Read about The Cloisters here.
The Chapter House and the Pyx Chamber
The two items on the list of things to see in Westminster Abbey are the Chapter House and the Pyx Chamber. Because it was so busy, the staff wanted to control the crowds that visited the Abbey and was directed to the exit. I didn’t get the chance to see The Chapter House and Pyx Chamber but, in the future, I would love to visit Westminster Abbey again to finish my tour.
Read about Chapter House and the Pyx Chamber on their website. There’s also advice before you go there.
The Chapter House was the eleventh item on the list. It was a meeting place where the monks gathered with the abbot to ‘hold chapter’: to pray, read from the rule of St Benedict, discuss the day’s business and at what time the abbot decides on punishments.
The twelfth and final item was the Pyx Chamber dating back to 1070. The Chamber was used for royal treasuries in the 13th Century and used for church vestments.
This post is about the stories of famous medieval people living inside the Abbey since the 11th Century. I can’t stop here without talking about the architecture too and it should be second focus to take in. I couldn’t take my eyes off them for one second. I learned not only about the tombs of kings, queens, poets, scientists and politicians but a lot about the architecture itself.
When I stepped inside, the first thing I did was look up to the ceiling. It rose to more than 100 feet high. The ceiling in the Nave had different geometric shapes, patterns and colours, something quite common in the 12th Century. Gothic architecture; typical style of the 12th Century.
The Nave is the central part of the Abbey and it’s where most of the burials are found. I’ve never seen the symmetry and geometric detail like the ceiling above the Nave before. I was in awe. There were around five-diamond shaped patterns with gold patterns complementing the geometry. Since travelling around Europe, I’ve seen architectural designs like no other, but I skipped British architecture because I live here. Living here for more than 20 years, I didn’t think I needed to. Now was the right time to delve into British architecture.
My favourite architecture was the fan vaulted roof in the Lady Chapel, the multi coloured glass stained window depicting badges of the fire squadrons during the Battle of Britain in 1940, lilies and stars and emblems of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The complex detail that went into the small patterns inside the circular shaped ceiling shouldn’t be taken for granted. This is because, compared to other European architecture, British architecture was influenced by the Normans, Anglo-Saxons and the Romans. In addition, the implementation of Gothic architecture has been influenced by the French between the 12th to the 15th Century, then flourished its influences from Wales, Ireland and Scotland.
I am glad that I went inside Westminster Abbey because not only did I learn about British history and the people that were involved in the Abbey, I wanted to know more about the architecture, its history and influences. The two designs that were memorable were the ceilings in the Nave, the fan vaulted ceiling in the Lady Chapel and the exterior of the Abbey.
I always knew they used stone masons, man powered cranes and horse drawn wagons to create something beautiful. I know they also used lime, soil and water but it must have taken them a great deal of time and money in order to make it perfect. I’m always so thankful to them because I don’t think they’d know the massive impact it would have on people’s lives thousands of years later. They wouldn’t know what they’ve built would be a number one tourist attraction in history.
That’s how I felt when I visited Westminster Abbey. The first thing I thought about was the detail the stonemasons, the scaffolders and other builders had put together to make something so beautiful. I actually stared at the abbey for several minutes thinking about its perfection. Initially, I only wanted to spend time outside the abbey but my curiosity of the abbey drove me to go inside. This is what I learned:
- Westminster Abbey – home of Kings and Queens from medieval Britain going back to the 12th Century. These include royal tombs of King Edward the Confessor, Henry III, Henry VI, Richard III, Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Mary I, George II and so many others.
- British poets’ and politicians’ burials going back to the 18th to the 19h Century. These include Jane Austen, William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and the Bronte sisters.
- Architecture going back to the 12th Century.
- What the Abbey is used for now.
Westminster Abbey is also the home of the tombs of the royal family dating back from the 12th to the 19th Century. British poets, British politicians and so much more were buried here. It also gave me descriptive information on some of the items placed in the Abbey such as, not limited to, The Coronation Chair, The Lady Chapel (a chapel dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary), the architecture and so much more. This, you can fill in an hour. The only downside to it is that you’re not allowed to take photos. It’s something worth remembering during your trip.
Westminster Abbey is better in real life than it is in pictures.