Westminster Abbey


Less than a week before my arrival in London, I enjoyed a nice preview of one of the most impressive landmarks I would visit — along with about 2 billion other people.  Prince William and Catherine became the latest in a very long list of royals to tie the knot in Westminster Abbey, and I watched from across the pond, knowing I would be following in their footsteps in just a few days.

So, on my first full day in London, I began my sightseeing at Westminster Abbey.  It was a miserable morning that eventually transformed into a more beautiful day, but the rainy start convinced me to seek an indoor attraction.  Sure, I had to stand in the rain for a while to get in, but I had the one essential accessory for a visit to London — an umbrella.

Above, you see Westminster Abbey’s two western towers.  Built between 1722 and 1745, they’re fairly new, relatively speaking.  The oldest parts of Westminster Abbey date back to 1245, when Henry III had an older version of the church (which was completed in 1090) torn down and rebuilt.

Since I had come from the Westminster tube station, and walked around Parliament Square and down Victoria Street, the western entrance to Westminster Abbey was the first side I saw.

A line formed here, that ran all the way to the north entrance, which is where the public is allowed to enter.  Almost there, I started noticing signs that said “cash only”, and I began to wonder if I could use my London Pass for entry in this line.  I stepped out of the queue and discovered that the only other line, coming from the opposite direction, was “credit only” — still no mention of the London Pass.  I found someone to ask, who told me that the pass could be used at either entrance.  Luckily, I was able to find my previous spot in the line.

Both lines come together at the doors at the northern entrance, underneath the statue of the Virgin Mary holding Jesus.

Entry to the Abbey is pricey, if you don’t have a London Pass.  Adult entry is £16, children 11 to 18 are £6.  A small discount is given to seniors and adult students.  (Check the Abbey’s website for updated prices.)  My 3-day London Pass was £67 — meaning I reclaimed almost 1/4 of my money, the first time I used it. 

Here’s another look (albeit slightly crooked) at Westminster Abbey’s northern entrance.  Here, you get a clear view of the church’s famous “flying buttresses” which, I believe, would make an awesome band name.  A flying buttress is an external column and arch that supports a vaulted ceiling.

Like most churches you will visit in England, Westminster Abbey has strict rules against taking photographs inside.  I can understand the very good reasons for this rule — for one, it’s a holy place that should be respected, and another, it would be chaotic for everyone to be running around, trying to take photos.  The downside is, my photos help me remember exactly what I saw, later on, say, when I’m developing this website.  So, I decided to discretely and respectfully attempt to take a few photos.

I managed to snap this one, showing the Choir area (with seating on the left and right sides, facing the aisle) and the High Altar.

I took one more picture at the High Altar, but church officials were everywhere, and were busy admonishing people who tried to take photos.  Of course, this is a terrible shot, and I realized it was hopeless to try to take good pictures, which meant it was pointless to try to take any pictures at all.

So, I put the camera away, and focused on making mental notes of my surroundings.

Inside Westminster Abbey, you will get to see the Coronation Chair, also known as King Edward’s Chair, made in 1301.  Many kings and queens have sat in the chair during their coronation.

Walk around the High Altar, and you can visit a series of smaller chapels and rooms which hold the tombs of numerous royals — including Queen Elizabeth I, Mary I, King Henry V, and Edward III.  Adding to the creepy factor, all of these tombs include a sort-of horizontal statue — a carved effigy depicting the person inside.

Many more people are buried underneath the floors of Westminster Abbey.  You will notice their names carved into the floor throughout the church.  There is also an area in the South Transept known as Poets’ Corner, where famous folks like Alfred Tennyson, Charles Dickens, and Laurence Olivier are entombed.  You will also find memorials honoring dozens of others, including William Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

I was able to take my camera out again, when I left the central portion of the church, and arrived at the Cloister.  This small grassy courtyard is surrounded by open archways.  The Cloister was used by monks before 1560, when the church ceased to be a monastery.

Behind the ancient doors of the Cloister and Little Cloister, there are church offices and apartments for some members of the clergy and staff.

Follow the passageways around to the south side of the complex, and you can visit the College Garden.  This area was used as an infirmary garden, where monks would grow medicinal herbs and foods.  There was also an orchard and a cemetery here.  Nowadays, you can get a good look at the Victoria Tower of Westminster Palace — which was, at one time, the tallest square tower in the world.  It was completed in 1860, as a fireproof storage building for important books and documents.

Just before exiting the church, I found one more place for a photo.  This hall leads out to the street, but the sun was shining beautifully in through a window.  Wait a minute, the sun?  Could it be possible that the clouds were breaking?

Ever heard the phrase “Robbing Peter to pay Paul”?  This is most likely where it originated.  For several years beginning in 1560, some of the revenues from Westminster Abbey (formally named the Collegiate Church of St. Peter at Westminster) were used for repairs at St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Back out on the street, the sky still looked pretty grey.  Where was that sunlight coming from?

This is the view from St. Margaret Street, which runs on the east side of Westminster Abbey.  The building in the foreground is part of Westminster Palace (the House of Lords), and of course in the background is the famous clock tower that houses Big Ben.

The nearest Underground station is right next to Big Ben, just a short walk away.  However, I was headed to another underground attraction, in the opposite direction — the Churchill War Rooms.

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