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Westminster Abbey
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Westminster Abbey

formed by flying buttresses.]]

The Collegiate Church of St Peter, Westminster (Westminster Abbey), a mainly Gothic church, on the scale of a cathedral, is the traditional place of coronation and burial site for English monarchs. It is located in Westminster, London, just to the west of Westminster Palace.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Coronations
3 Burials
4 Schools
5 Transport
6 List of Abbots, Deans, and the Bishop of Westminster
7 See also
8 Further reading
9 External link


According to tradition, a shrine was first founded here in 616 on a site then known as Thorney Island. It was said to have been miraculously consecrated after a fisherman on the River Thames saw a vision of Saint Peter. While the existence of this shrine is uncertain, the historic Abbey was built by Edward the Confessor between 1045-1050 and was consecrated on December 28, 1065. Its construction originated in Edward's failure to keep a vow to go on a pilgrimage; the Pope suggested that he redeem himself by building an Abbey.

The original Abbey, in the Romanesque style that is called "Norman in England, was built to house Benedictine monks. It was rebuilt in the Gothic style between 1245-1517. The first phase of the rebuilding was organised by Henry III, in Gothic style, as a shrine to honor Edward the Confessor and as a suitably regal setting for Henry's own tomb, under the highest Gothic nave in England. The work was largely finished by the architect Henry Yevele in the reign of King Richard II. Henry VII added a Perpendicular style chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary in 1503 (known as the Henry VII Lady Chapel).

Although the Abbey was seized by Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1534, and closed in 1540, becoming a cathedral until 1550, its royal connections saved it from the destruction wrought on most other English abbeys. The expression "robbing Peter to pay Paul" may arise from this period when money meant for the Abbey, which was dedicated to St. Peter, was diverted to the treasury of St. Paul's Cathedral. It suffered damage during the turbulent 1640s, when it was attacked by Puritan iconoclasts, but was again protected by its close ties to the state during the Commonwealth period. Oliver Cromwell was given an elaborate funeral there in 1658, only to be disinterred in January 1661 and posthumously hanged from a nearby gibbet.

The Abbey was restored to the Benedictines under Queen Mary, but they were again ejected under Queen Elizabeth I in 1559. In 1579, Elizabeth re-established Westminster as a "royal peculiar" – a church responsible directly to the sovereign, rather than the Archbishop of Canterbury – and made it the Collegiate Church of St. Peter, the college being Westminster School. Since then, the head has been not a bishop but a dean, appointed by the monarch.

The abbey's two western towers were built between 1722 and 1745 by Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor, constructed from Portland stone to an early example of a Gothic Revival design. Further rebuilding and restoration occurred in the 19th century under Sir George Gilbert Scott.

Until the 19th century, Westminster was the third seat of learning in England, after Oxford and Cambridge. It was here that the first third of the King James Bible Old Testament and the last half of the New Testament were translated. The New English Bible was also put together here in the 20th century.


King Harold II Godwinson was the first monarch crowned in the Abbey in 1066. On Christmas Day of the same year William the Conqueror was crowned here and all subsequent English monarchs (except Lady Jane Grey, Edward V and Edward VIII, who did not have coronations) have been crowned there. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the traditional cleric in the coronation ceremony. Harold and William, however, were crowned by the Archbishop of York possibly because Stigand, the Archbishop of Canterbury was excomunicated at the time.


Henry III rebuilt the Abbey in honour of the Royal Saint Edward the Confessor whose memorial and relics were placed in the Sanctuary. Henry III was buried nearby as were the Plantagenet kings of England, their wives and relatives. Subsequently, most Kings and Queens of England were buried here. Although Henry VIII and most of the monarchs after Charles I are buried at St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle.

Aristocrats were buried in side chapels and monks and people associated with the Abbey were buried in the Cloisters and other areas. One of these was Geoffrey Chaucer who was buried here as he had apartments in the Abbey as he was employed as master of the Kings Works. Other poets were buried around Chaucer in what became known as Poets' Corner. Abbey musicians such as Henry Purcell were also buried in their place of work. Subsequently it became an honour to be buried or memorialised here. The practice spread from aristocrats and poets to Generals, Admirals, politicians, scientists, doctors etc. etc. These include:

Buried Nave

North Transept South Transept Cloisters North Choir Aisle Commemorated Removed
The following were buried in the abbey but later removed on the orders of Charles II See also Poets' Corner


Westminster School and Westminster Abbey Choir School are also on the grounds of the Abbey. Westminster School was originally founded by the Benedictine monks in 1179.


List of Abbots, Deans, and the Bishop of Westminster

Edwin 1049 - c. 1071
Geoffrey of Jumièges c. 1071 - c. 1075
Vitalis of Bernay c. 1076 - 1085
Gilbert Crispin 1085 - 1117
Herbert 1121 - c. 1136
Gervase de Blois 1138 - c. 1157
Laurence of Durham c. 1158 - 1173
Walter of Winchester 1175 - 1190
William Postard 1191 - 1200
Ralph de Arundel (alias Papillon) 1200 - 1214
William de Humez 1214 - 1222
Richard de Berkying 1222 - 1246
Richard de Crokesley 1246 - 1258
Phillip de Lewisham 1258
Richard de Ware 1258 - 1283
Walter de Wenlok 1283 - 1307
Richard de Kedyngton (alias Sudbury) 1308 - 1315
William de Curtlyngton 1315 - 1333
Thomas de Henley 1333 - 1344
Simon de Bircheston 1344 - 1349
Simon de Langham 1349 - 1362
Nicholas de Litlyngton 1362 - 1386
William de Colchester 1386 - 1420
Edmund Kyrton 1440 - 1462
George Norwich 1463 - 1469
Thomas Millyng 1469 - 1474
John Esteney 1474 - 1498
George Fascet 1498 - 1500
John Islip 1500 - 1532
William Boston 1533 - 1540
Thomas Thirlby 1540 - 1550
William Benson (Abbot Boston) 1540 - 1549
Richard Cox 1549 - 1553
Hugh Weston 1553 - 1556
restored by Mary I of England
John Feckenham 1556 - 1559
William Bill 1560 - 1561
Gabriel Goodman 1561 - 1601
Lancelot Andrews 1601 - 1605
Richard Neile 1605 - 1610
George Montaigne 1610 - 1617
Robert Tounson 1617 - 1620
John Williams 1620 - 1644
Richard Steward (never installed) 1644 - 1651 (Commonwealth period)
John Earle 1660 - 1662
John Dolben 1662 - 1683
Thomas Sprat 1683 - 1713
Francis Atterbury 1713 - 1723
Samuel Bradford 1723 - 1731
Joseph Wilcocks 1731 - 1756
Zachary Pearce 1756 - 1768
John Thomas 1768 - 1793
Samuel Horsley 1793 - 1802
William Vincent 1802 - 1815
John Ireland 1816 - 1842
Thomas Turton 1842 - 1845
Samuel Wilberforce 1845
William Buckland 1845 - 1856
Richard Chenevix Trench 1856 - 1864
Arthur Penrhyn Stanley 1864 - 1881
George Granville Bradley 1881 - 1902
Joseph Armitage Robinson 1902 - 1911
Herbert Edward Ryle 1911 - 1925
William Foxley Norris 1925 - 1937
Paul de Labilliere 1938 - 1946
Alan Don 1946 - 1959
Eric Abbott 1959 - 1974
Edward Carpenter 1974 - 1985
Michael Mayne 1986 - 1996
Arthur Wesley Carr 1997 - present

See also

Further reading

External link