11 Things You Can´t Miss in Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey is probably the most famous religious temple in London. Would you like to know what sites you can see during your visit? Read on!
Westminster Abbey is England's oldest and most important religious building. A national shrine that over the centuries has witnessed numerous royal coronations and houses the tombs of royalty and great British personalities.
A living piece of the country's history and a Gothic artistic jewel that houses a lot of precious works of art inside. In short, one of the essential visits to do in London whether you travel only 2 days to London or if you stay a week in London.
If among your plans is to visit this English icon, after buying your tickets to Westminster Abbey and check the opening hours of Westminster Abbey, I encourage you to read this post where you will find a small preview of 11 wonderful places to see in Westminster Abbey.
1. The Lady Chapel
At the east end of Westminster Abbey you will find The Lady Chapel, one of those small artistic treasures of great beauty that house the churches and are able to leave pleasantly surprised visitors.
Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, its construction began in the sixteenth century, during the reign of Henry VII of Tudor, and has a great value to be considered within the English medieval architecture as the last masterpiece.
Walking through The Lady Chapel means not being able to take your eyes off the vaulted ceiling with fanlight from which hang carved gilded pendants. A beautiful example of late medieval architecture that fits perfectly with the rest of the decoration of the chapel.
It also draws attention to the colorful flags with heraldic motifs on the stalks that adorn both sides of the chapel The Lady Chapel and corresponding to the knights of the Order of the Bath who met here since the eighteenth century.
Other elements that decorate the chapel with great taste are the magnificent stained glass windows, although they are not original as those were destroyed during the Restoration period. They were installed in the 20th century and represent insignia of the fighter squadrons of the Battle of Britain in 1940 and emblems related to the Virgin Mary.
The more than one hundred statues of saints around the chapel and symbols such as the pawn of England, the rose of the Tudor family, the fleur-de-lis or the Welsh dragon complete this unique space.
2. The Coronation Chair
St. George's Chapel is home to one of the most famous pieces of furniture in the world: The Coronation Chair. A medieval chair from the 14th century (the oldest piece of furniture in the country!) on which more than 26 monarchs have been crowned, including the famous Henry VIII, Elizabeth I or the current Queen Elizabeth II of England.
King Edward I had it made to keep in it the Scone Stone (the rock that the Scots used to crown their kings in the Middle Ages) and that from then on would serve for the coronations of the English sovereigns.
The value of the Scone Stone lies in the fact that, according to the legend held by the kingdoms of Scotland and England, it was the same one that Jacob used to support his head when he dreamed of Jacob's Ladder, an episode recorded in the book of Genesis.
In 1996 the British government returned the stone to Scotland and today it can be seen in Edinburgh Castle, although it will be ceded to London every time there is a new coronation.
As for the coronation chair of King Edward I, it remains on display in Westminster Abbey and continues to be used for the purpose for which it was carved.
3. The Royal Tombs
In addition to hosting the coronation of numerous kings since the 10th century, Westminster Abbey is also the burial place for many of them.
Strolling through The Lady Chapel you can contemplate the tombs of many monarchs such as Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, Queen Mary I and her sister Elizabeth I, Queen Mary Stuart, Edward V and Richard Duke of York (the Princes in the Tower) or Charles II, among many others.
If you are a fan of historical novels or movies, many of these names will surely ring a bell, as their lives have been made into movies on many occasions in recent years.
4. Poets' Corner
Arriving at the north side of Westminster Abbey you will see one of its most popular spaces, especially for literature lovers who come here on pilgrimage. It is known as Poets' Corner, where more than a hundred literary figures are buried or paid tribute to.
A tradition that began in the fifteenth century with the burial of the poet Geoffrey Chaucer (author of "The Canterbury Tales") which was followed by many other renowned writers such as Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling, Samuel Johnson and Thomas Hardy.
Other iconic authors of English literature such as William Shakespeare, C.S. Lewis, Jane Austen or the Brontë Sisters have memorials in their honor in the Poets' Corner.
5. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Going now to the west end of Westminster Abbey you will find the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where lies an unidentified soldier who participated in World War I (1914-1918) and whose mortal remains were brought from France to England to be buried here, among kings, because as the inscription says: "he did good to God and to his house".
During the Great War, nearly one million British soldiers perished in the conflict and many of them could not be identified. This tomb in Westminster Abbey is intended to pay tribute to all of them. It is undoubtedly one of the most emotional places, which you will be able to know during the visit to the temple.
6. Pyx Chamber
One of the oldest areas of Westminster Abbey is the Pyx Chamber, in the East Cloister of the temple.
Entering it is like taking an exciting journey back in time to the origins of the church in the eleventh century, when King Edward "the Confessor" wanted to rebuild the previous abbey on the site. From those years, the Pyx Chamber still retains several 11th century tiles and its medieval tiled floor.
In the past, the British crown used this chamber as a treasury and in it were kept not only valuable pieces of silver and gold but also very important documents and treaties of foreign policy, since at that time this small room of Westminster Abbey was considered the most secure in the city.
7. The Choir
Within the tour of Westminster Abbey you can also see the choir stalls. The original dated from the Middle Ages and was replaced in the eighteenth century. The current one is from the nineteenth century but the black and white marble floor of this part of the temple is original from the seventeenth century.
This is where the members of the church choir sing, a tradition that dates back to the 10th century and is still celebrated today. In fact, choral services are often held in the church, which anyone can attend.
If you like sacred music, do not hesitate and take a look at the schedule of events to attend because it is a very special occasion to enjoy the true majesty and spirituality of Westminster Abbey outside of its more touristy side.
8. The Cloisters Cloisters
The Cloisters are one of the most beautiful parts you will see during your tour of Westminster Abbey. They convey a great sense of peace and serenity. Walking through the cloister corridors you will feel that, for a moment, time has stopped.
They date from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and the monks of the Benedictine Order used them for prayer, meditation, exercise or rest and also to move between the various monastic buildings that made up Westminster Abbey, as the Cloisters served as a connection between them.
As a curiosity, the first twelve monks who came to Westminster were brought by St. Dunstan (the then Bishop of London) in the ninth century and remained here until King Henry VIII dissolved the monastery in the sixteenth century.
9. The Chapter House
Located in the East Cloister, this beautiful room served as a meeting place for the monks and the abbot when they wanted to discuss the business of the day, read the "Rule of St. Benedict" or pray, among other things.
The Chapter House was also the meeting place for the King's Great Council in the 13th century, so that this part of Westminster Abbey was the beginning of English parliamentarianism. And later, in the 14th century, the House of Commons also met here several times before using the Refectory of the Abbey
If you like art, in this part of the visit you will enjoy observing the octagonal architecture of the Chapter House, where a pillar that rises to the vaulted ceiling stands out, opening in a fan. Pay attention also to the mural paintings depicting scenes from the Apocalypse and the stained glass windows, which are a marvel.
Before leaving, don't forget to see the wooden door of the Chapter House, which is believed to be the oldest in Britain. Amazing!
10. The Queen's Diamond Jubilee Galleries
During your visit to Westminster Abbey you cannot miss The Queen's Diamond Jubilee Galleries, a space within the medieval triforium above the nave of the temple that has remained hidden from visitors for more than 7 centuries.
It is a beautiful museum with stunning views of the interior of the church and the Palace of Westminster, which tells the millennial history of Westminster Abbey from its origins and through hundreds of objects of great historical value.
To enter The Queen's Diamond Jubilee Galleries you need to do it in a specific schedule. In the post Westminster Abbey opening hours you will find more information about it.
11. Collage Garden
The College Garden of Westminster Abbey was the place where the Benedictine monks cultivated their gardens.
It is about a millennium old, making it the oldest park in England. Such a place is well worth a visit, especially when the weather in London is milder and the gardens of College Garden look more flowery and beautiful.
The best time to visit this park is spring in London (between March and May) although summer in London is also a good time. One of my favorite places inside Westminster Abbey!