Westminster Abbey – The Eternal Sanctuary for History

It is a solemn procession of burials and memorials, a reverent tribute to England's luminaries spanning the realms of royalty, administration, science and literature at Westminster Abbey. Steeped in history dating back to the 11th century, the site stands as a timeless testament to the country.
Inside Westminster Abbey
Inside Westminster Abbey

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No words resonate more profoundly than the timeless quote: "Death is the last chapter in time, but the first chapter in eternity" inside Westminster Abbey. In this sacred space, memory has been transformed into a cherished treasure.

Westminster Abbey, nestled in the heart of London, has stood since 1066 as the revered site for royal coronations, weddings, and burials. It is a sanctuary not only for monarchs but also for England's luminaries - administrators, dukes, scientists, poets, and writers - whose legacies echo within its hallowed walls. One has to tread carefully not to step on the tombs of Charles Darwin and many others.

The origins of Westminster Abbey are shrouded in mystery, though it is believed that an abbey of monks existed there in the mid-10th century. The first grand structure was commissioned in the 1040s by King Edward the Confessor, who now rests within its sacred walls. History reveals that the construction of the current majestic church began around 1245 under the reign of Henry III, marking the beginning of an architectural legacy that endures to this day. This monument with its timeless beauty and rich history draws visitors from all corners of the globe every day. Long winding queues for the entry tickets are a regular feature, admit security officials outside the building.

As one steps into the grand edifice of Westminster Abbey, a sense of reverence takes hold. Visitors tread carefully, mindful not to walk upon the tombs of illustrious figures such as Charles Darwin and others. The floor, a mosaic of final resting places, compels each step to be taken with a silent plea for pardon, as one navigates through the hallowed sanctuary where history sleeps.

Grave of Charles Darwin
Grave of Charles Darwin
Crowd at Poets Corner
Crowd at Poets Corner

The charming interior

The structure boasts a geometric Gothic style, featuring an eleven-bay nave that serves as the central gathering space for the congregation. The transepts, the two side parts, adorned with crystal chandeliers crafted from hand-blown glass, add a luminous brilliance to the already radiant interior. The church's interior has marble piers and shafting.

At the crossing, before the shrine of Edward the Confessor and the main altar, lies the magnificent Cosmati pavement, crafted by the renowned Roman Cosmati family. This 700-year-old tile floor is a masterpiece, composed of nearly 30,000 pieces of coloured glass and stone, creating a mosaic of breathtaking artistry.

Most of the saint shrines, once prevalent in English medieval churches, were destroyed during the Reformation. However, only the shrine of Saint Edward endures within Westminster Abbey.

Abbey's grounds cradle the remains or memorials of over 3,300 individuals, a diverse tapestry of lives that have left their mark on history. Among them are scientists Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton and Stephen Hawking, statesman Clement Attlee who led Britain during India's independence and actors David Garrick and Laurence Olivier. The abbey is also the final resting place of 18 English, Scottish, and British monarchs.

Grave of Isaac Newton
Grave of Isaac Newton
The painting of Queen Elizabeth at her coronation in 1953
The painting of Queen Elizabeth at her coronation in 1953

Queen's Diamond Jubilee Galleries

Beneath the former monks' dormitory, now transformed into the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Galleries since June 2018, lies a museum brimming with historical treasures. Among them are life-size effigies of British monarchs and their consorts, crafted to adorn coffins during funeral processions or to be displayed over tombs, with some still wearing their original garments. The museum also houses pages from the Magna Carta, a pivotal document in English history. Additionally, visitors can marvel at the portrait of Queen Elizabeth taken during her coronation in 1953.

A page from Magna Carta on display
A page from Magna Carta on display
A collage of writers  buried at Poets Corner
A collage of writers buried at Poets Corner

Poets Corner

At the southern terminus, just preceding the exit, lies the revered Poets' Corner, a sanctuary for the literary spirits of over 100 poets and writers, where their earthly remains find repose alongside poignant memorials. The first interment was that of Geoffrey Chaucer, laid to rest around 1400, followed by Edmund Spenser, who was buried nearby in 1599.

Here rest the literary giants: Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, the Brontë Sisters, Matthew Arnold, Gerard Manley Hopkins and more modern luminaries such as CS Lewis, Ted Hughes and Philip Larkin. As visitors pass through, the air is filled with the soft murmur of the crowd, reciting lines from the works of their beloved literary masters.

Stepping out, one is enveloped in a dual sentiment, akin to the somber aftermath of a funeral yet tinged with a thrilling exhilaration, having just glimpsed the tapestry of history.

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