- The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes. Marcel Proust
Visit Westminster Abbey
London has no shortage of world class tourist attractions, in fact there are so many it can be hard to see them all during a single visit. But one that you really should take the time to visit is Westminster Abbey.
A church dedicated to St Peter is said to have stood on the site of Westminster Abbey as early as the 7th century and was given its name to distinguish it from the "Eastminster", St Mary-of-the-Graces. Officially known as the Collegiate Church of St Peter in Westminster, Westminster Abbey was founded by Edward the Confessor in 1065 as his place of interment. Since then, and until the death of George II in 1760, most British sovereigns were buried here, along with some 3,000 prominent national figures.
Westminster Abbey is also where most British monarchs have been crowned, and where many of them were married. This masterpiece of Gothic architecture not only has the highest Gothic nave in England (102 ft), it's also one of London's most popular tourist attractions, drawing more than a million visitors each year.
Here are some reasons for spending some time at the Abbey.
The Nave's Many Memorials
You'll find many of the Abbey's 600-plus memorials in the Nave. One of the first you'll see is in St George's Chapel, formerly the Baptistery, and dedicated to those who fell in WWI (there's also a memorial to US President Franklin D Roosevelt). Also of note is the 14th century portrait of Richard II, the oldest surviving portrait of an English monarch. Other items to see here include a tablet commemorating Lord Baden-Powell, founder of the Scout movement; the Abbot's Pew, a small oak gallery erected in the 16th century; a collection of 18th century busts of British officers; memorials to Methodist John Wesley; the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior; and a memorial stone dedicated to Winston Churchill.
Quire and Sanctuary
Westminster Abbey's Choir (or "Quire") occupies the same position as that of Edward the Confessor's earlier church and extends across the Transept into the Nave. The Sanctuary where coronations take place has an exquisite mosaic pavement brought to London in 1268 from Rome. On the left are three particularly beautiful 13th century medieval tombs belonging to Edmund Crouchback (founder of the house of Lancaster), Aymer de Valence (Earl of Pembroke), and Crouchback's wife, Aveline.
In the Ambulatory is the marble monument to General Wolfe, who fell at Quebec in 1759, and on the High Altar are a glass mosaic of the Last Supper by Salviati and fine sculptured figures.
Royal Chapels and Tombs
Almost a church in itself, the magnificent 16th century Chapel of Henry VII is a superb example of late Perpendicular architecture with a profusion of rich sculptured decoration and beautiful fan vaulting. It contains the tomb of Henry VII and his Queen, above which can be seen banners and the carved stalls of the Knights of the Order of the Bath. Nearby is Innocents Corner, the burial place of Sophie and Mary, daughters of James I (just three- and two-years old when they died), and a small sarcophagus with the remains of the sons of Edward IV murdered in the Tower of London.
Other notable items include the royal tombs of Elizabeth I and her predecessor Mary Tudor, the Royal Air Force Chapel dedicated to the fallen in the Battle of Britain, and the tombs of Charles II, William II and Queen Anne. Also of interest is the Henry V Chantry Chapel with its recumbent effigy of the King together with a saddle, helmet and shield, thought to be those used at the Battle of Agincourt (the king's head was stolen during the reign of Henry VIII).
The cloisters date from the 13th and 14th centuries and contain many tombs. The southwest corner of the cloisters leads to Dean's Yard and the College Garden, said to be the oldest in England, and the rooms to the west of the cloisters include the Deanery, Jericho Parlor, and the Jerusalem Chamber in which Henry IV died in 1413.
The Chapter House
The Chapter House was the meeting place of the King's Great Council in 1257 and of Parliament from the mid-14th to the mid-16th centuries. It's an octagonal chamber 60 ft across, its vaulting supported on a single pier of clustered shafts. Other notable features are a Roman sarcophagus, the well-preserved 13th century pavement, ornamental tracery of the six windows and the circular tympanum of the doorway with figures of Christ in Majesty, the Virgin and angels.
The Westminster Abbey Museum is located in the vaulted undercroft beneath the former Monks' Dormitory, one of the oldest areas of the Abbey dating from the foundation of the original church in 1065. In its collection are old seals and charters, 14th and 15th century chests and the coronation chair of Mary II. There's also an unusual collection of wax effigies once displayed at funerals, including the figures of Charles II, Elizabeth I, Mary II, William III, the Duke of Buckingham, and Lord Nelson. The wooden figure of Edward III is the oldest wooden effigy of a monarch in Europe. Fun stuff for kids includes the chance to dress up like monks.
The Abbey Gardens
Three of the Abbey's original gardens can still be enjoyed. The Garth, notable for its square of turf, is bounded by the Cloisters and is where the monks would walk as they prayed. The Little Cloister Garden contains a lovely fountain, borders of scented plants, and was where the monks would recuperate when ill. The 900-year-old College Garden was used to grow medicinal herbs and foods.