Tuesday, June 30, 2009

St. Margaret's Church (Westminster)

Sir Winston Churchill was married here, John Milton was a parishioner, and Sir Walter Raleigh (most of him) is buried here. The Anglican church of St. Margaret, Westminster, is situated in the grounds of Westminster Abbey on Parliament Square, and is the parish church of the Houses of Parliament in London.

Originally founded in the 12th century by Benedictine monks, so that local people who lived in the area around the Abbey could worship separately at their own simpler parish church, St. Margaret's was rebuilt from 1486 to 1523. It became the parish of the Palace of Westminster in 1614, when the Puritans of the 17th century, unhappy with the highly liturgical Abbey, chose to hold Parliamentary services in the more "suitable" St. Margaret's, a practice that has since continued.

Notable features include the Eastern window of 1509 of Flemish stained glass, created to remember the engagement of Catherine of Aragon to Prince Arthur, elder brother of Henry VIII. Other windows commemorate William Caxton (d. 1491, Britain's first printer), who is buried here, Sir Walter Raleigh (all but his head buried in the church in 1618), and the poet John Milton, a parishioner of the church.

Note: Sir Walter Raleigh's body was buried at St. Margaret's after his execution, but his embalmed head was kept by his wife, Elizabeth Throgmorton. She kept it in a red leather bag, by her side, for the last 29 years of her life. Their son Carew took care of it until his own death in 1666. Carew was buried in his father's grave with the head, but in 1680 Carew was exhumed and re-buried, along with his father's head, in West Horsley, Surrey. Way more than you wanted to know.

The church continues to be a popular venue for "society" weddings.

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