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Westminster Abbey

Sacred Buildings: Westminster Abbey in London, England


England's Prince William and Kate Middleton were married at the grand, Gothic Westminster Abbey on April 29, 2011.
Westminster Abbey in London

Westminster Abbey in London

Photo © Andrew Holt/Getty Images

Westminster Abbey in London is considered one of the world's most famous examples of Gothic architecture. The Abbey was consecrated on December 28, 1065. King Edward the Confessor, who had the church built, died a few days later. He was the first of many English monarchs buried there.

Over the next few centuries, Westminster Abbey saw many changes and additions. King Henry III began adding a chapel in 1220 but more extensive remodeling began in 1245. Much of Edward's Abbey was torn down to build a more magnificent structure in Edward's honor. The King employed Henry of Reyns, John of Gloucester, and Robert of Beverley, whose new designs were influenced by the Gothic churches of France—the placement of chapels, pointed arches, ribbed vaulting, and flying buttresses were some of the Gothic characteristics. The new Westminster Abbey does not have the traditional two aisles, however—the English simplified with one central aisle, which also makes the ceilings seem higher. Another English touch includes the use of native Purbeck marble throughout the interiors.

King Henry's new Gothic church was consecrated on October 13, 1269.

Over the centuries more additions were made both inside and outside. The 16th century Tudor Henry VII rebuilt the Lady Chapel begun by Henry III in 1220. The architects are said to have been Robert Janyns and William Vertue, and this ornate chapel was consecrated on February 19, 1516. The western towers were added in 1745 by Nicholas Hawksmoor (1661-1736), who had studied and worked under Sir Christopher Wren. The design was meant to blend with the older sections of the Abbey.

Why is it called Westminster?

The word minster, from the word "monastery," has come to be known as any large church in England. The abbey that King Edward began to expand in the 1040s was west of St. Paul's Cathedral—London's Eastminster.

More About Westminster Abbey:

Sources: History: Architecture and Abbey History, The Chapter Office Westminster Abbey [accessed December 19, 2013]

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