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Westminster Abbey, the Coronation Church in London Since 1066

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Westminster Abbey

A Brief History of Westminster Abbey

The original abbey on the site of Westminster Abbey was called St Peter's Abbey and was rebuilt from 1042 by King Edward the Confessor to provide a royal burial church. The new building was consecrated in 1065 just before Edward's death. He was duly buried there along with his wife Edith who died nine years later. Since then almost every English and British monarch has been crowned in Westminster Abbey using the throne known as King Edward's Chair. This throne is still within the abbey in St. George's Chapel and is the chair that housed the Stone of Scone which is now kept in Edinburgh Castle in Scotland.

King Henry III started construction of the present church now known as Westminster Abbey in 1245 and he also wished to be buried there. The abbey became the coronation site for Norman kings with much of the stone and building materials coming from France. In 1470 King Edward V was born inside the abbey after his mother took sanctuary there. King Henry VII raised money for a beautiful new chapel and in 1539 King Henry VIII took royal control over Westmister Abbey and declared the building a cathedral in 1540. This enabled him to spare its destruction during the dissolution period. However, the abbey was restored to the Catholics by Mary I of England then in 1559 it changed hands again and became a church of the Church of England under Queen Elizabeth I. Westminster Abbey was now directly responsible to the sovereign.

Westminster Abbey is one of the most important Gothic buildings in the country, and is the final resting place for seventeen kings and queens. There are also many other people buried or commemorated in Westminster Abbey which was an honour and practice started by Oliver Cromwell. These include Richard Hakluyt in 1616, Admiral Robert Blake in 1657, William Pitt the Younger in 1806, William Wilberforce (who led the movement to abolish slavery) in 1833, the famous Scottish civil engineer Thomas Telford in 1834 and Charles Darwin in 1882. The abbey also contains the 1920 tomb of the Unknown Warrior. This is the only grave in Westminster Abbey on which it is forbidden to walk.

Anne Boleyn was crowned Queen of England on 1 June 1533 at Westminster Abbey, and the body of Mary, Queen of Scots was moved there in 1612. In 1702 Queen Anne was crowned here after being carried by sedan chair because of her ill-health, and in 1760 King George II, who had lived longer than any of his English or British predecessors, was buried here.

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