04 Apr 2022

How to Make the Most Out of a Visit to Westminster Abbey

London is one of the oldest cities in the world. With such a rich past, London has plenty for history fans to enjoy. This article will focus on the best places to explore when you visit Westminster Abbey.

Westminster Abbey is one of the world’s most famous abbeys, situated in the heart of London. This means that you can visit Westminster Abbey and be within range of numerous otherfun hotspots in London!

As one of England’s most famous and beloved abbeys, Westminster Abbey attracts plenty of visitors each year. Keep reading to uncover how to make the most of your day when you visit Westminster Abbey.

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When is the best time to explore Westminster Abbey?

There really is no bad time to visit Westminster Abbey. No matter what season you choose to visit Westminster Abbey in, you are sure to have a memorable experience.

While it is cheaper to visit Westminster Abbey outside of the summer months, this does not mean that visiting in the summer is bad by any means. Indeed, walking around the abbey during the summer is a very pleasant experience indeed. Everything looks better when bathed in sunlight, and the grounds of the abbey are no different! Plus, there are plenty of things to be enjoyed near the abbey that will be much more enjoyable in the summer.

See the names of literature icons at Poet’s Corner

Black plaques used for memorials line the floor, each with names and dates inscribed on them.
More than 100 poets and writers are buried at Westminster Abbey

Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey is called such because more than 100 poets and writers are buried or have memorials here. Many of these are people who have left an unforgettable mark on the world of literature. This includes William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens.

The first poet to be buried here, in 1400, was Geoffrey Chaucer, who was the author of The Canterbury Tales. Although he was not a poet, he was still an influential literary figure. This set a precedent for burials and memorials that is still alive today.

The Deans of Westminster are tasked with deciding who receives a place. With fierce competition, burial and memorial slots have to be based on merit. Poets’ Corner can be found in the eastern aisle, the ‘corner’, of the south transept. However, possibly due to the very limited space available, over time graves and memorials have spread across the whole transept.

Discover the Royal Tombs

It is not just incredibly influential figures in the world of literature that have their graves and memorials at Westminster Abbey. As it is of incredible importance to the British Royal Family, it should come as no surprise that Westminster Abbey is the final resting place of 30 kings and queens. The first of these was Edward the Confessor, whose beautiful shrine is located just behind the High Altar.

With space at a premium in the abbey, several chapels had to be built to accommodate the dead royals. In St Edward the Confessor’s chapel alone, you will find the tombs of Edward I, Edward III, and Richard II among others.

As we mentioned, space in the abbey is at a premium. This, of course, becomes even more pressing as time advances. The lack of available space means that some important English monarchs have been unable to have memorials. This is why no monuments exist for Charles II, Queen Anne, Queen Mary II or her husband King William III. Instead, they are all buried in a vault in the south aisle with just simple inscriptions on small stones.

Visit the tomb of the Unknown Warrior

A large black plaque surrounded by red poppies lays on the floor of the abbey. There is gold writing inscribed on it.
The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior at Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey is the final resting place of many famous figures throughout history. It is also the final resting place of someone who was unknown, yet hugely significant. Westminster Abbey is home to the grave of the Unknown Warrior. His body was brought home from France to be buried in the abbey on the 11th of November 1920.

The Unknown Warrior was buried at the same time as an unknown French soldier, who was laid to rest at the Arc de Triomphe in France. The tomb of the Unknown Warrior is the first example of its kind and has come to be known as a defining monument to the human cost of conflict.

Visit the Cloisters

A long hall with an arched roof and arched, partly stained glass windows. People are walking down the hall.
The Cloisters at Westminster Abbey

The Cloisters were one of the busiest parts of the abbey, as they were where the monks spent much of their time. Sadly, in 1298, a fire damaged much of the area of the cloisters of the Norman church. As a result, these areas had to be substantially rebuilt. This meant that a significant amount of fascinating history was lost to the flames. The cloisters date mainly from the 13th to the 15th centuries and were used for meditation, exercise and providing a route into the main monastic buildings.

Although each of the cloisters was of significant importance to the abbey, it was the East Cloister that arguably held one of the most significant events in the Catholic calendar. The Abbot held his Maundy Thursday service in the East Cloister during Holy Week each year. During the service, he replicated the occasion in the Bible. Thirteen elderly men were seated on a stone bench while the Abbot washed their feet, wiped them dry and kissed them.

Discover the history of Chapter House

The importance of the East Cloister was not just limited to Maundy Thursday, however. Also located in the East Cloister is Chapter House. Among the various religious duties that were conducted, the Chapter House would also be where the Abbot decided on the various punishments for those who had been deemed to have broken the rules.

The Chapter House has political significance, as well as its religious importance. This is because it was where the King’s Great Council assembled in 1257. This was effectively the beginning of the English Parliament.

Finally, Chapter House is also home to a unique piece of history that can be claimed by no other building. As bizarre as it may seem, the Chapter House is actually the home of the oldest door in Britain! It is believed to date back to the 1050s. No tests have been able to prove that there are any older doors that survive in Britain today.

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