Cloisters of Saint John Lateran, Rome. Source:

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Westminster Abbey. (Part One.)

Text and Illustrations from Wikipedia - the free encyclopaedia,
unless otherwise stated.

Westminster Abbey,
London, England.
This File: 5 May 2006.
Source: Own work.
User: Tebbetts.

The Interior of Henry VII's Chapel,
Westminster Abbey,
London, England.
Artist: Canaletto (1697–1768).
Date: Early 1750s.
Current location: Private collection.
This File: 13 April 2009.
User: Rfdarsie.
(Wikimedia Commons)

Westminster Abbey, formally titled the Collegiate Church of Saint Peter at Westminster, is a large, mainly Gothic, Church in the City of Westminster, London, located just to the West of the Palace of Westminster. It is one of the most notable religious buildings in the United Kingdom and has been the traditional place of Coronation and Burial Site for English and, later, British Monarchs. The Abbey is a Royal Peculiar and, between 1540 and 1556, had the status of a Cathedral; however, the Church is no longer an Abbey, nor Cathedral.

According to a tradition first reported by Sulcard, in about 1080, a Church was founded at the site (then known as Thorn Ey (Thorn Island)) in the 7th-Century, at the time of Mellitus (+ 624 A.D.), a Bishop of London. Construction of the present Church began in 1245, on the orders of King Henry III.

Since 1066, when Harold Godwinson and William the Conqueror were Crowned, the Coronations of English and British Monarchs have been held here. Since 1100, there have been at least sixteen Royal Weddings at the Abbey. Two were of reigning Monarchs (Henry I and Richard II), although, before 1919, there had been none for some 500 years.

English: Towers of Westminster Abbey, London, England.
Français: Les tours de l'Abbaye de Westminster, Londres, Angleterre.
Photo: 28 August 2007.
Source: Own work.
Author: Bernard Gagnon.
(Wikimedia Commons)

The first reports of the Abbey are based on a late tradition, claiming that a young fisherman, called Aldrich, on the River Thames, saw a vision of Saint Peter near the site. This seems to be quoted to justify the gifts of salmon, from Thames fishermen, that the Abbey received in later years. In the present era, the Fishmonger's Company still gives a salmon every year. The proven origins are that in the 960s A.D., or early 970s A.D., Saint Dunstan, assisted by King Edgar, installed a Community of Benedictine Monks here.

Between 1042 and 1052, King Edward the Confessor began rebuilding Saint Peter's Abbey, in order to provide himself with a Royal Burial Church. It was the first Church in England built in the Norman Romanesque Style. It was not completed until around 1090, but was Consecrated on 28 December 1065, only a week before Edward's death on 5 January 1066. A week later, he was buried in the Church, and, nine years later, his wife, Edith, was buried alongside him. His successor, King Harold II, was probably Crowned in the Abbey, although the first documented Coronation is that of William the Conqueror, later the same year.

The only extant depiction of Edward's Abbey, together with the adjacent Palace of Westminster, is in the Bayeux Tapestry. Some of the lower parts of the Monastic Dormitory, an extension of the South Transept, survive in the Norman Undercroft of the Great School, including a door, said to come from the previous Saxon Abbey. Increased endowments supported a Community increased from a dozen Monks in Saint Dunstan's original Foundation, up to a maximum about eighty Monks, although there was also a large Community of Lay Brothers, who supported the Monastery's extensive property and activities.

Westminster Abbey,
London, England.
2 February 2012.
Source: Own work.
(Wikimedia Commons)

Construction of the present Church was begun in 1245 by King Henry III, who selected the site for his burial.

The Abbot and Monks, in proximity to the Royal Palace of Westminster, the Seat of Government from the Late-12th-Century, became a powerful force in the Centuries after the Norman Conquest. The Abbot often was employed on Royal Service and, in due course, took his place in the House of Lords as of right.

Released from the burdens of Spiritual Leadership, which passed to the reformed Cluniac Movement after the Mid-10th-Century, and occupied with the administration of great landed properties, some of which lay far from Westminster, "the Benedictines achieved a remarkable degree of identification with the Secular Life of their times, and particularly with Upper-Class Life", Barbara Harvey concludes, to the extent that her depiction of daily life provides a wider view of the concerns of the English gentry in the High- and Late-Middle Ages.

The proximity of the Palace of Westminster did not extend to providing Monks or Abbots with High Royal Connections; in social origin, the Benedictines of Westminster were as modest as most of the Order. The Abbot remained Lord of the Manor of Westminster, as a town of two to three thousand persons grew around it; as a consumer and employer, on a grand scale, the Monastery helped fuel the town economy, and relations with the town remained unusually cordial, but no enfranchising Charter was issued during the Middle Ages. The Abbey built shops and dwellings on the West Side, encroaching upon the Sanctuary.

English: Cosmatesque pavement, central nave of the Duomo di San Cesareo
in Terracina (Latium, Italy). King Henry III commissioned a Cosmati Pavement
in front of the High Altar in Westminster Abbey.
Français: Pavement cosmatesque, nef centrale du Dôme de
San Cesareo à Terracina (Latium, Italie).
Italiano: Terracina (provincia di Latina, Lazio, Italia), città alta, Duomo di San Cesareo,
interno, pavimento cosmatesco, tratto al centro della navata centrale.
Photo: August 2006.
Source: Own work.
Author: MM.
(Wikimedia Commons)

The Abbey became the Coronation Site of Norman Kings. None were buried there until King Henry III, intensely devoted to the cult of Edward the Confessor, rebuilt the Abbey in Anglo-French Gothic Style as a Shrine to Venerate King Edward the Confessor and as a suitably regal setting for Henry's own tomb, under the highest Gothic Nave in England.


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