Read more about Kings and Queens
As one of the most important religious sites in Britain, Westminster Abbey has played a vital role in multiple historic events for over 1,000 years. Just to the west of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, the Gothic abbey is also the burial site of 18 monarchs.
An architectural wonder, the abbey is visited by over one million people every year, but what about this medieval church makes it so captivating? Here are six fascinating facts about Westminster Abbey that you probably didn’t know.
1. Monarchs crowned at Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey has been the go-to location for the coronations of English monarchs since at least 1066, although it’s highly likely that the site has been used for coronations for much, much longer.
The first recorded coronation at the site was that of William the Conqueror, who was crowned on Christmas Day 1066. The coronation of King Charles III on 8th May 2023, will be the 40th coronation at Westminster Abbey.
2. Weddings at Westminster Abbey
Since opening, Westminster Abbey has hosted over 17 royal weddings, but this is a luxury that is only available to a select few. Strict rules are in place around who can tie the knot inside the abbey, meaning you can only get married there if you’re a member of the Royal Family, a member of the Order of Bath, or one of the residents living within its precincts.
The most recent royal wedding held at Westminster Abbey was that of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011.
3. Westminster Abbey was built on an island
Thorney Island was a small island in the river Thames that sat just upriver from Medieval London. Formed by rivulets from the River Tyburn, which met with the Thames nearby, the expansion of London and construction surrounding Westminster Abbey meant that over the years, the rivulets were filled in and built over.
With Thorney Island no longer visible, the only reminder that the island ever existed is Thorney Street, which runs behind the MI5 building.
4. Westminster Abbey is not really an abbey
Despite what the name might suggest, Westminster Abbey hasn’t been an abbey for over 450 years. No longer home to monks or nuns, Westminster Abbey stopped serving as a monastery during the Reformation of the English church in 1559.
As the Church of England was established, Westminster Abbey was reclassed and gained ‘Royal Peculiarity’ status in 1560, which means it belongs to the ruling monarch and isn’t governed by the church.
5. Westminster Abbey is home to Britain’s oldest door
The solid oak door is the only surviving Anglo-Saxon door in the world. The wood from the door was felled from a single tree, which according to its ring growth, was planted as early as AD 924.
6. Burials at Westminster Abbey
There are over 3,300 people buried or commemorated in the Abbey. As well as the kings and queens of British history and important political figures, key and influential British men and women are buried or celebrated within the Abbey.
Poets Corner hosts over 100 graves and memorials, starting with Geoffrey Chaucer, who was interred in 1400. Other poets and writers who are memorialised include Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, the Bronte sisters, and Jane Austen.
Scientists are also honoured, with Charles Darwin, Sir Isaac Newton, and Stephen Hawking appearing in the tombs.