Westminster Abbey

June 15, 2008 at 6:24 pm | Posted in General, London, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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Iconic, ancient and a tad morbid are just some of the interpretations of Westminster Abbey. While the building doesn’t resonate with the same instant recognition as St Paul’s or the Palace of Westminster (Big Ben), it nonetheless features heavily in British cultural and political life. Religious and spiritual events have been occurring at the site of the Abbey even before Christianity took hold. Religious buildings have come and gone and the current church began construction in the 13th century. Although it has been the home of coronations since 1066 and seventeen monarchs are buried there.

Westminster Abbey (18) Westminster Abbey (10)

One of the features of the royal coronation is the coronation throne which has seen monarchs come and go since the 1300s. For me it’s this sense of continuity that gives the Abbey it’s strength and gravitas more so than its vaulted ceilings and stone work. That a chair and a building have borne witness to so much in English history impresses me and upon me. Despite upheaval they have remained.

In the same manner the multitude of memorials and busts to notable persons (poets, scholars, philanthropists and politicians) all highlight the changing nature of British society. Even when there is upheaval there can still be development of culture and a snap shot, however brief, is captured in these stone monuments.

At least this is what I took away from my visit. On the other hand you might be more interested in the tomb of Queen Elizabeth I and her sister Mary (amongst others), the ornate stonework or the religious events that take place throughout the year.

Westminster Abbey (17) Westminster Abbey (12)

You can take your own initiative and look around and read information displays but that content is limited and a more advisable option would be to take an audio guide or if one is available a tour with one of the Abbey’s Vergers. The latter two options will be cost more (about £5 or £6), which is on top of the £12 adult entry fee. I used the audio tour and was able to go at my pace while learning about the Abbey. Presumably the Verger tour will be a bit more regimented – though more interactive!

The Abbey is a worthwhile experience and it took just over an hour and a half (the audio tour is 90mins). For the history and culture buff the Abbey should go on your list but if you only have a limited stay in London I would opt for St Paul’s. While the Abbey is older and features more heavily in British life, St Paul’s has many similar cultural monuments and has views over the city. With the latter clinching the deal.

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