Did you know… Westminster Abbey boasts the highest nave in Britain – 103-feet tall.The Coronation ChairTomb of Henry III
Westminster Abbey is London’s most prestigious religious building – the setting for coronations, State funerals, and the burial place of many celebrated kings and queens.
The Abbey’s proper name is the Collegiate Church of St Peter, founded in 616 when a fisherman saw a Thorney Island vision. A shrine was kept throughout the ages, until some Benedictine monks built an abbey in the 730s. Edward the Confessor ordered the construction of a better building in 1045, and it was consecrated a decade later – a week after his death.
Henry III then knocked it all down and started again from scratch in the mid 13th-century, and Richard II completed it 260 years later. Religious persecution throughout the 16th and 17th-centuries passed it in and out of favour, but its royal connections kept it safe for the nation. By the 18th-century it had risen to be the third-highest seat of learning in the country (after Oxford and Cambridge).
Many famous scripts have been written here – notably the first third of the King James Old Testament. The last half of the New Testament was also translated on the grounds, and the New English Bible was put together in the building.
William the Conqueror was the first king to be crowned at Westminster Abbey, on Christmas Day 1066. The famous Coronation Chair may look modest, but it has been used at every British crowning for 700 years. The only monarchs to forgo the tradition were Edward V and Edward VIII.
The famous Stone of Scone – the coronation stone of the Scottish sovereigns – used to lie beneath the seat, but has now been returned to Edinburgh. It was taken from the Scots in 1297 when Edward I dragged it back to London. The Scots nicked it back again in the 1950s, but it was soon recovered. The only other time it had left the Abbey was during the two World Wars, and when Oliver Cromwell was consecrated in Westminster Hall.
Westminster Abbey is also famous for its funerals. Every King and Queen from Edward the Confessor to George II can be found inside the grounds – with the exception of just two: Henry VIII and Charles I, who are both buried at Windsor.
Charles I’s nemesis – Oliver Cromwell – was given an elaborate funeral here in 1658, only to be dug up and hung from a nearby gibbet when the monarchy was restored under King Charles’ son. Such was Charles II’s ire, that he left his head upon Westminster Hall for twenty-five years until it finally fell off in a storm. It now resides in Cambridge. His body is believed to buried somewhere under Marble Arch – but you can see his original burial place in the RAF Chapel.
The Chapel of Edward the Confessor  is a supremely important monument in British history. The tomb of the King is in the centre of the room, with the Coronation Chair nearby.
The Henry VII Chapel  was built in the early 16th-century, and completed by his son in 1512. The magnificent golden gilding on the ceiling makes it the most beautiful part of the Abbey. Banners of the Knights Order hang around the choir stall, and the tomb of Henry and his Queen can be seen sitting at the back.
Other monarchs buried in the chapel include Elizabeth I, Mary I and Edward VI. Mary Queen of Scots also has a tomb nearby. But most poignant of all is the Innocents’ Corner  – containing the bones of the two princes murdered in the Tower of London.
The full list of Kings and Queens buried inside Westminster Abbey is as follows: Anne, Charles II, Edward the Confessor, Edward I, Edward III, Edward VI, Elizabeth I, George II, Henry III, Henry V, Henry VII, James I, Mary I, Mary II, Mary Stewart, Richard II and William III.
One of the most popular parts of Westminster Abbey is Poet’s Corner  – the burial place of the nation’s greatest playwrights. You can see graves and memorials to Geoffrey Chaucer, Samuel Johnson and Charles Dickens (who was apparently buried here against his wishes – on the orders of Queen Victoria).
Other writers include Milton, T S Eliot, Tennyson, Wordsworth, Rudyard Kipling, Dylan Thomas, Jane Austin and the Brontë Sisters. William Shakespeare and Robert Burns are buried elsewhere, but have grand tablets to commemorate them.
Famous politicians include William Pitt and Gladstone. There are also statues and memorials to Lord Palmerston, Winston Churchill and Benjamin Disraeli.
Famous scientists include Isaac Newton, James Maxwell, Charles Darwin and Michael Faraday.
The Abbey Museum is housed in the Norman Undercroft. Here you can see the creepy wax effigies of people’s actual death masks. Queen Elizabeth I, Charles II and Lord Nelson all have their faces on display, wearing clothes from the period.
Choral Evensong, at Westminster Abbey – from 1st Jan 2013
Christmas Concert, at Westminster Abbey – from 12th Dec 2013
Drummerboy’s London blog includes all the attractions, events, shows and hotelsDrummerboy’s London blog