For a thousand years, Westminster Abbey has been the scene of the coronation of every king and queen. Originally a Saxon church, it was rebuilt and expanded by the Norman conquerors of England after the year 1066. In 2023, the abbey will host the Coronation of King Charles III.
If you’re a Londoner – which I am – you can walk past Westminster Abbey a hundred times barely registering it. But today, I thought I would. If for no other reason than to share some images but also a few things you might not know about this church.
Together with parliament, it was built on an island – or eyot – formed by sediment deposited by the River Tyburn which split into two and flowed into the Thames at Westminster. The Tyburn is now in a sewer beneath London. The island was called Thorney Island.
The first church may have been built as early as 604CE but it was Edward the Confessor in the 11th century who built the first major monastery. The Saxons didn’t place as big an importance on the crowning of monarchs as the Normans did – who made Westminster Abbey the place to be hailed officially as king after they invaded England in 1066.
Westminster went through a wholesale reconstruction under Henry III (1216-1272) who pretty much wiped out the earlier Romanesque church and replaced it with a Gothic edifice. The bulk of what you see today is Henry III’s work.
Interestingly, as I mentioned before in another post, the work was funded in part by the Jewish moneylender Licoricia. This wouldn’t save her life as England – consumed by crusades related xenophobia –
turned against its Jewish communities and eventually banished them under Edward I.
- Kate Middleton and Prince Harry Stop by Westminster Abbey One Day Before Royal Wedding (popsugar.com)
- The Secret Garden of Westminster Abbey (acraftytraveler.com)