Getting Lost in the History of Westminster Abbey

A former cathedral and current church, Westminster Abbey is World Heritage site and the location of the 2011 wedding of Catherine Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William. The historic landmark is a spectacular building and iconic sight within central London.

Getting to the Abbey

Westminster Abbey is located in central London along with many of London’s top spots. On the day I toured the landmark, I also went to see nearby Big Ben, the Eye of London, and Buckingham Palace. The abbey opens at around 9 a.m. every day except Sunday. If you are there the second it opens, the experience improves greatly. About twenty minutes after we arrived at Westminster Abbey, a gigantic group of school girls from Japan flooded the abbey. An early start is invaluable if you truly want ot experience the rich history of Westminster.

A Storied Past

Westminster Abbey was started by Queen Elizabeth I in 1560 A.D. For a very short period of time from 1546 to 1556, the Abbey was actually considered a cathedral. The first incarnation of the abbey was back in the days of Mellitus around 600 A.D. Mellitus was the Bishop of London at the time and according to tradition, a fisherman saw Saint Peter at the site. In later years, fishermen would often bring gifts of fish over to the site every year. The building of the present church officially began in 1245 by King Henry III.

The Abbey was used as the coronation site of the Norman Kings. Although it has continued in this tradition, the tradition of having royalty buried here did not start until Henry III.

Sights to See

While you are at Westminster Abbey, take advantage of the free audio tour tracks. Although you have to pay around 16 pounds to go into the abbey, the audio tour is free. As you go to each of the numbers, listen to the corresponding track on the audio tape. The history and details it offers are a great way to gain insight into the abbey and the various shrines and burial sites. Also, make sure to check out poet’s corner. Memorial stones and statues stand for all of the great poets in England’s history. Among the most famous poets would be William Shakespeare, Mary Shelley, and Lord Alfred Tennyson. At certain times of the year, visitors can also go through the small convent area in the back of the abbey and look at the actual rooms. Since many of these are currently occupied by the monks and docents of the abbey, visitors can not always check out this great part of Westminster Abbey’s history.

Sources

Lonely Planet London
Authors own experience