Westminster Abbey: the second of my February Jollies.
Every now and again I like to have a change from writing about writing so:
Welcome to the second of my recent ‘jollies.’
I am so happy my photos and posts about a few of my visits to some of our great houses, gardens, cathedrals, churches and other places of interest, are so well received.
Your comments are always welcome and much appreciated.
My last ‘jolly,’ to Waltham Abbey Church was very popular and I learned a great deal from those commenting and telling me about their own visits and what they’d learned of the history of the Abbey Church. Thanks so much everyone.
The day following our visit to Waltham we visited Westminster Abbey.
A year or so ago I was supposed to take a guided tour around the Abbey with my younger brother and two of his friends, one of whom was using a wheelchair, the other friend was her carer. Sadly, due to a few problems before we left home, with our disabled friend, we arrived at the Abbey just as they closed the doors at 1pm.
Apparently the Abbey closes to tourists at 1pm on a Saturday. Something we failed to know.
We attempted to gain entrance to St Margaret’s Church close to the abbey so as not to go home without our fiend at least visiting one place of interest after so much effort.
After a bit of a to-do we succeeded in getting the wheelchair up the steps kindly helped by members of the public, only to be told off by some security guys who appeared from nowhere and insisted they find and lay a ramp for us.
It seems that they don’t usually allow wheelchair access. We had the not so funny experience of being half up and half down the steps waiting for the ramp to be laid, so we could wobble up the rest of the way on the ramp. Pushing the chair was a feat in itself and all three of us had to push.
By the time we entered the church our friend in the wheelchair had had enough of it all. She was tired and cold and disappointed. It was all getting too much for someone as frail as she. So we only had a glance inside the church before she wanted to leave. The ramp had disappeared (health and safety reasons apparently) so we had to carry her and the chair back down the steps.
Not very impressive.
Before I leave St Margaret’s behind here is a little blurb about it.
In Westminster Abbey the public were not allowed inside the Quire area which was reserved for the monks , so the monks built St Margaret’s for public use. The abbot appointed a monk to take services there.
The present church was built between 1482-1523. In 1614 it became a ‘parish church of the House of Commons’. The front pew on the south side is reserved for the exclusive uses of the Speaker.
The stained glass windows are gorgeous. The east window was made in the Netherlands around 1526 but not installed until 1758. It commemorates the marriage of Henry V111 to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.
Over the west door is a window commemorating Sir Walter Raleigh, who was buried beneath the altar.
We were amazed to learn that Frank Sinatra is among the names of people from around the world who donated money towards the restoration of St Margaret’s at the end of the 20th century.
We were all bitterly disappointed but managed to enjoy the rest of our afternoon elsewhere and we even found time for lunch next to Tower Bridge.
We even managed to see the Jubilee Barge which has been used by HM The Queen
So back to the Abbey.
Anyway, this time my brother and I were early and spent several hours wandering around and enjoying its splendour.
I know we didn’t see everything – I think you’d need several visits and I suggest if you decide to go you look at their website and plan what you really don’t want to miss seeing.
Also use the audio guide, as we did, otherwise you’ll possibly walk past so much without knowing what you are missing.
Unfortunately photography is not allowed inside the Abbey, and of course reproducing photos from their brochure is not legal, so my apologies for the sparsity of my own photos.
Westminster Abbey is a magnificent building which I’m sure you are all very familiar with. Because of the vastness of the place and the enormous number of things to see I can’t cover everything I would have liked, so I thought I would give a few snippets of information, perhaps not that widely known.
There is a lot of information about the Abbey with photos, on their website.
I used to work not far from it and the Houses of Parliament, when I was at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which back then had various offices around the city, as well as offices in the Old Scotland Yard building – The Curtis Green building – where I worked.
If you recall the TV series – in the days of Black and White only – called No Hiding Place, you will probably be familiar with the building which housed Scotland Yard back then: the opening shot has a black Police car coming out of the parking area, between two brick pillars, with its bell ringing.
Strange then, that all the time I lived and worked in London, I never managed to go and look around either of them. But, it was the Swinging Sixties and I was young, and my head was elsewhere obviously.
My older self is horrified that I didn’t .
I didn’t realise so many people are buried or memorialised in the Abbey – more than 3,000 people in fact – and there are more than 600 tombs and monuments. They are running out of space and so many have stained glass window memorials to commemorate their lives, or the wealth that enabled them to buy their piece of immortality.
Founded as a large Benedictine Monastery it is uncertain exactly when the first church was built upon this site, the Abbey has served not just as a place of worship, but has witnessed the coronation of kings and queens for over a thousand years and still welcomes members of the royal family to services throughout the year and serves a local congregation and others who visit.
It has been at the heart of the nation, standing alongside the Houses of Parliament, The Supreme Court and the offices of government and is a symbol of the connection between Church and State, and welcomes visiting heads of state and other distinguished visitors at many special services marking occasions of national celebration and mourning.
George ll as the last monarch buried in the Abbey, but royal funeral services are still held in the church. Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997 and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, in 2001, had their funeral services held there. The Queen Mother’s service was the 13th funeral of a queen consort, the previous one being that of King Edward V11’s consort, Queen Alexandra, in 1923. The first one was that of Queen Edith, wife of Edward the Confessor, in 1075.
The first church built upon the site stood on an island which, at the time, was called Thorney Island – a swampy inhospitable place, then on the outskirts of London, surrounded by the tributaries of the Thames. Myths and legends have sprung up to explain its origins.
One such story says that King Sebert (died AD 616), king of the East Saxons, founded the church in 604. Monks in the 14th century exhumed what they thought were his bones from the cloisters and reburied then in a place of honour by the high altar. However in 2003 archaeologists found what they now believe is the king’s grave, miles away, in Essex.
Those of you who have read my post about Waltham Abbey Church will recall that King Sebert (Sabert) also founded a wooden church in the area of the present choir in that abbey in c610.
It is thought the monks embellished a lot of these stories claiming ancient origins, to establishment of their abbey – the west minster, or church – was older than St Paul’s Cathedral, the east minster. We do know that in 960 Dunstan, the bishop of London, brought 12 Benedictine monks from Glastonbury to found a monastery at Westminster.
100 years later King Edward the Confessor founded his church on the site and from then on the history is certain. Unfortunately the day we visited his tomb was closed off from visitors – we only got a glimpse of it from its rear.
Edward the Confessor’s church was the first in England to be built in the shape of a cross with north and south trancepts forming its arms. If, like us, you enter the abbey via the north transcept, you’ll be impressed with the height of the vaulting. At 102 feet, it is the highest in Britain.
The area called the Quire was the scene of a horrific murder in the Middle Ages. Back then criminals could seek sanctuary within the abbey and once within the precincts the law could not reach them. In 1378 50 of the king’s men ignored the rights of sanctuary and chased a prisoner into the Quire. One of the soldiers apparently ‘clove his head to the very brains,’ and also murdered a monk who tried to rescue the prisoner.
We saw the Cosmati pavement, something I was eager to see. It is in front of the high altar and well worth seeing. It is one of the Abbey’s most precious possessions – a medieval pavement designed and laid in 1268. The abbot of the monastery, Richard de Ware had admired the pavements laid in Italian churches and invited them to England to lay a similar one in the Abbey. It consists of 80,000 pieces of porphyry, glass and onyx set into Purbeck marble.
The patterns recreated also incorporate an inscription in brass letters, which seemed to foretell the end of the Universe as the year 19,683 after the Creation.
The 700 year old pavement was recently cleaned and restored which took 2 years and was completed in time for the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in April 2011.
In Henry V11’s Lady Chapel, at the far east end, is the RAF Chapel, dedicated to those who died in the Battle of Britain in 1940 (World War 11) and was dedicated in 1947. A small hole in the wall, now covered in glass, was made by a bomb that fell just outside the chapel.
Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) and several of his colleagues, who were responsible for the trying and beheading of King Charles 1 in 1649, were also buried in this are, but their bodies were thrown out after the monarchy was restored in 1660.
In the north side of the Lady Chapel is the tomb of Queen Elizabeth 1 (1553-1603) and in the vault beneath her coffin rests her half-sister Mary (1516-1558). In the north aisle is an ornate casket designed by Christopher Wren, set into the wall, and thought to be the remains of the ‘Princes in the Tower,’ 13 year old Edward V (1470-83) and 11 year old Richard, Duke of York, (1472-83).
In a vault beneath the eastern end of the south aisle are members of the Stuart dynasty, including Charles 11, William 111 and Mary, and also Queen Anne. The vault was last entered in 1976 when there was a suspected gas leak – there wasn’t one – but what they did discover was that Charles 11’s coffin had collapsed and it was possible to see his funeral clothes and his buckled shoes, plus the ring he wore on his little finger.
Westminster Abbey is a wonderful place to visit, I could have stayed there for days, obviously there’s so much history to take in and the carvings and architecture alone would keep me more than happy, but alas, there is only so much time…we had to leave. I was very disappointed at not being able to take photos except in a few areas, however, I hope you enjoy those I have taken. I don’t feel I have done our visit justice given the restrictions, but hope that you’ve discovered something new and of interest in spite of this.
Our next ‘jolly’ will be just as interesting and with photos. After the Abbey we wandered off for something to eat and then visited Westminster Cathedral…talk about a lovely surprise. I had no idea….but that’s for my next post.
Westminster Abbey, London SW1P 3PA
Tel: +44 (0)20 7222 5152 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Check their website for times of services, events and when tourists are allowed in.
Photos (c) Jane Risdon All Rights Reserved unless otherwise stated.
Do pop back and leave me your comments and share your experiences. Always fab to hear from you.