Thursday, June 18, 2009

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey, the oldest parts dating from the year 1050, is officially named the Collegiate Church of St. Peter at Westminster. It stands adjacent to the Palace of Westminster and the Houses of Parliament. In this Gothic edifice the kings and queens of England have been crowned (and buried) since William the Conqueror in 1066. Westminster Abbey is also a Royal Peculiar, a place of worship that falls directly under the jurisdiction of the British monarch, rather than a diocese.

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 in the early 1600s.

Henry VII Lady’s Chapel, a riot of flamboyant Gothic style dating from 1503, is the mother church of the Order of Bath. Banners of the members add colorful, festive adornment as the eye moves upward to glimpse the astonishing tracery stone ceiling (shown above).

Westminster Abbey's main nave is remarkably narrow at just 35 feet wide (photo above). The ceiling, however, at more than 100 feet high, is the tallest in England.

St. Edward's Chair (shown above), the throne on which British sovereigns are seated at the moment of coronation, is housed within the Abbey and has been used at every coronation since 1308; from 1301 to 1996 (except for a short time in 1950 when it was temporarily stolen by Scottish nationalists), the chair also housed the Stone of Scone upon which the kings of Scotland are crowned, but pending another coronation, the Stone is now kept in Scotland.

Geoffrey Chaucer and other writers are buried and memorialized in Poets' Corner. These include William Blake, Robert Burns, Lord Byron, Charles Dickens, John Dryden, George Eliot, T. S. Eliot, John Keats, Rudyard Kipling, John Milton, Laurence Olivier, Alexander Pope, Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Shakespeare, Alfred Lord Tennyson and William Wordsworth (for starters).

Musicians get their proper enshrinement, too. Henry Purcell served as abbey organist from 1679, Orlando Gibbons from 1623, John Blow from 1668, and William Croft from 1708.

The Great West Door and Towers (below):

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