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Westminster abbey

Westminster abbey has been the setting for the coronation of English monarchs since 1066, when William the Conqueror was crowned in the new church of Edward the Confessor, perhaps to underline continuity; from Henry III to George II sixteen monarchs were buried there. There was a monastery on the isle of Thorney by the Thames before Edward began his great building c.1050 but there is no certain evidence when it had been founded. Harold Harefoot was buried there in 1040 at the end of his short reign. Nor is there anything above ground surviving of Edward's church, dedicated on 28 December 1065, with the king absent on his death-bed. It was however on a grand scale. The present abbey was begun by Henry III in 1245 and was much influenced by contemporary French styles: it is the highest of great English medieval churches and therefore seems narrow. The body of Edward the Confessor was moved there in 1269. The chapter house where, until the Reformation, Parliament met was one of the earliest parts to be completed. Building on such a scale was inordinately expensive and progress in finishing the abbey was very slow. The nave was not completed until the reign of Henry VII, who began his own addition—the fan-vaulted chapel. Work had already started on the foundations for the two western towers.

The abbey's close connection with the monarchy saved it from the fate of most other abbeys at the Reformation, which were turned into parish churches or plundered for their stone. The abbot's house was taken over by Lord Wentworth and the bishopric established in 1540 suppressed (leaving Westminster's claim to be a city). Mary began the restoration of the monastery but at the end of her brief reign it was closed again and the buildings made over to Westminster School. Though the abbey suffered from the iconoclasts of the 1640s, its prestige helped it during the Commonwealth: Cromwell had the stone of Scone taken to Westminster hall for his inauguration as lord protector and was given an elaborate funeral in the abbey, only to be disinterred in January 1661. Wren began the work of restoring the fabric of the abbey after years of neglect but not until 1745 were the western towers completed, to the design of Nicholas Hawksmoor. By that time the tradition of affording the great and mighty burial in the abbey was well established, as a British pantheon. Spenser was buried in what became known as Poets' Corner in 1599, Newton in 1727, Pitt in 1778, Samuel Johnson in 1784. At length the abbey became too crowded to permit of further burials. But among the host of memorials, the most moving is that which commemorates the dead of the Great War, a brass to a ‘British warrior, unknown by name or rank’.

J. A. Cannon

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"Westminster abbey." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey, originally the abbey church of a Benedictine monastery (closed in 1539) in London. One of England's most important Gothic structures, it is also a national shrine. The first church on the site is believed to date from early in the 7th cent. It was erected by Æthelbert, king of Kent. Edward the Confessor began c.1050 the building of a Norman church, consecrated in 1065. In 1245, Henry III began to demolish the edifice and to build a new eastern portion, thus initiating centuries of construction. The fine octagonal chapter house was built in 1250, and in the 14th cent. the cloisters, abbot's house, and principal monastic buildings were added. The nave was completed in the 16th cent. Early in the 16th cent. Henry VIII finished the Lady Chapel, dedicated to Henry VII. This chapel, in Perpendicular style, is noted for its superb fan vaulting. The two western towers were built (1722–40) by Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor. In the late 19th cent. Sir George Gilbert Scott supervised extensive restoration. From that time memorial statues by many academic Victorian sculptors have been added to the decor. The present church is cruciform in plan; both nave and transept have side aisles. The choir is apsidal in plan, and its ring of chapels exhibits the only complete chevet in England. French influence is also seen in the height of the nave, the loftiest in England, and in the strongly emphasized flying buttresses. Nearly every English king and queen since William I has been crowned in Westminster, and it is the burial place of 18 monarchs. England's most notable statesmen and distinguished subjects have been given burial in the Abbey since the 14th cent. In the Poets' Corner in the south transept rest the tombs of Chaucer, Browning, Tennyson, and other great English poets.

See descriptive and historical works by W. R. Lethaby (1906 and 1925), H. F. Westlake (1923), A. E. Henderson (1937), L. E. Tanner (1953), and E. Carpenter (1966); Council of Christians and Jews, The Corners of the Earth … Westminster Abbey in the 900th Anniversary Year (1966).

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Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey Gothic church in London, originally the abbey church of a Benedictine monastery (closed 1539). In 1050, Edward the Confessor began to build a Norman church on the site. In 1245, Henry III began work on the present structure. The Lady Chapel, dedicated to Henry VII, is a fine example of the perpendicular style. The two western towers were built (1722–45) by Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor. The 19th-century restoration was managed by Sir George Gilbert Scott. The Abbey is cruciform in plan. Since William the Conqueror, most English monarchs have been crowned in the Abbey. It is the burial place of 18 monarchs. Poets' Corner lies in the s transept.

http://www.westminster-abbey.org

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"Westminster Abbey." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Westminster Abbey." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved August 16, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/westminster-abbey