13 fascinating facts about Westminster Abbey

13 fascinating facts about Westminster Abbey

King Charles III's Coronation ceremony on Saturday 6th May 2023 took place at Westminster Abbey in London, one of the oldest and most significant buildings in the UK. It has been the location of 39 Coronations, 16 royal weddings, and 30 funerals for English, Scottish and British monarchs.

When was Westminister Abbey built?

Westminster Abbey was originally built in 960AD, and is an architectural masterpiece of the 13th and 16th centuries. From its high Gothic vault to the great pavement in front of the High Altar, the building itself features a breathtaking blend of mainly Gothic and Romanesque styles.

Inside Westminister Abbey

Completed our royal family quiz? To celebrate the Coronation, take a look inside Westminster Abbey and discover what makes this royal church and World Heritage Site so historic.

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1) It has been the setting for every Coronation

While Westminster Abbey is now a place of regular worship, it has been the setting for every Coronation since the Christmas Day coronation of William the Conqueror in 1066. Most notably, Queen Elizabeth II was crowned on 2nd June 1953 at the Abbey – the 39th Sovereign to have her Coronation there.

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2) The Lady Chapel was built by Henry VII

The Lady Chapel is a glorious example of late medieval architecture, famous for its spectacular fan-vaulted ceiling. It is the burial place of 15 Kings and Queens, including Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I. Highlights include the great west window, the rose window from the early 18th century, and the newest Queen Elizabeth II window, designed by David Hockney.

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3) It is owned by the royal family

Unlike other churches around the UK, Westminster Abbey isn't part of a diocese. Instead, it is owned directly by the royal family and is completely reliant upon income from tourism.

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4) It has the largest ceiling in the UK

Westminster Abbey has the highest Gothic vault in England, spanning 102 feet. According to westminster-abbey.org, the ceiling was made to seem higher by making the aisles narrow. The spectacular fan-vaulted roof (pictured) can be seen in Henry's Lady Chapel and was consecrated on 19th February 1516.

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5) 16 royal weddings have taken place at the Abbey

From Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip (pictured) to Prince William and Kate Middleton, 16 royal weddings have taken place at Westminster Abbey. The first was the wedding of Henry I who married Princess Matilda of Scotland in 1100.

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6) It was built by multiple figures

Edward the Confessor was the original founder of the Abbey in the 1040s, who decided that the land known as Thorney Island on the banks of the Thames would be the location for his royal palace.

While it was founded as a Benedictine monastery over a thousand years ago, the building we see today dates from the reign of King Henry III in the 13th century. The Abbey survived for two centuries until the middle of the 13th century, when Henry decided to rebuild it in the new Gothic style of architecture.

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7) Cosmati Pavement predicts end of the world

The great pavement in front of the High Altar of Westminster Abbey was laid down in 1268 by order of Henry III. The workmen came from Rome, and created the great pavement which is made of onyx, opaque coloured glass, and Purbeck marble. It is inscribed with three damaged inscriptions referring to the end of the world, calculating it will last for 19,683 years.

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8) It has the oldest door in the country

According to London Tickets, Westminster Abbey has the only surviving Anglo Saxon door in the whole country, dating back to the year 1050. It's thought to have been built from a single tree in Hainault.

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9) It houses the Coronation Chair

King Edward's Chair — which King Charles III will sit on when he is invested with regalia and crowned at the Coronation — resides in Westminster Abbey's St. George's Chapel when it's not in use. As an ancient symbol of Scotland's monarchy, it was commissioned by King Edward I and finished around 1300.

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10) It is the resting place for more than 3,500 people

Who is buried at Westminister Abbey? The famous Abbey is the resting place for more than 3,500 people, including the tombs of Sir Issac Newton, Charles Dickens, Stephen Hawking, and 18 English, Scottish and British monarchs.

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11) It contains over 600 monuments

The breathtaking Abbey contains over 600 monuments and wall tablets – the most important collection of monumental sculpture anywhere in the country.

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12) It has multiple rooms

Westminster Abbey boasts multiple rooms and suites, including The Cloisters (where monks once spent most of their time), the Poets' Corner, Chapter House, the Royal Tombs, and the Pyx Chamber — one of the oldest surviving parts of the Abbey.

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13) It's a UNESCO World Heritage site

Westminster Abbey, including St Margaret's Church, was inscribed as a cultural World Heritage Site in 1987. A striking example of the successive phases of English Gothic art and architecture, it is of great historic and symbolic significance.

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King Charles III's Coronation at Westminster Abbey in London joins a list of historic moments. Keep reading for facts about Westminster Abbey.