Inside the dazzling gothic church where King Charles will be crowned this week

Westminster Abbey is a grand church

Westminster Abbey is a grand church (Image: GETTY)

will take place on May 6 inside Westminster Abbey, a stunning example of Gothic architecture located in the City of Westminster, London.

As well as being the host for countless Coronations, the abbey is also a burial site for 18 monarchs and at least 16 royal weddings have been held here – from the late Elizabeth II to the future king, Prince William.

The church is believed to have been founded in the 960s and 970s when Saint Dunstan and King Edgar installed a community of Benedictine monks in the area.

The site got its first building in the 1060s under King Edward the Confessor, one of the many royals to be buried inside, and later expanded when King Henry III ordered the construction of much of the abbey we see now in 1245.

Three master masons supervised the work – Henry of Reyns, John of Gloucester and Robert of Beverley – who took influence from France and the new cathedrals at Reims, Amiens and Chartres.

History: Coronations at Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey has been the home to dozens of royal coronations (Image: GETTY)

Coronations have been held at Westminster Abbey for 900 years but before Westminster Abbey was built, Coronations were carried out wherever was convenient.

The first coronation at Westminster Abbey was for William the Conqueror on December 25, 1066, with the most recent coronation being for Queen Elizabeth II on June 2, 1953.

The Queen’s coronation in 1953 was the first to be televised and was watched by 27 million people in the UK alone.

King Charles will become the 40th reigning monarch to be crowned in May 2023, and will be crowned alongside his Queen Consort, Camilla.

Westminster Abbey exterior

The exterior architecture of Westminster Abbey has a Gothic style, which was very popular in Europe, particularly France, throughout the Middle Ages.

For instance, the flying buttresses on the outside of the abbey, which were erected in the 14th century, indicate its Gothic style.

Sir Christopher Wren worked on the church’s exterior at the end of the 17th century, and his successor, William Dickinson, continued the job.

The two western towers of the abbey were rebuilt between 1722 and 1745 by Nicholas Hawksmoor and John James, using Portland stone to create an early example of a Gothic Revival design.

In addition, Westminster Abbey features a leaded tent-lantern roof on an iron frame, designed by George Gilbert Scott in the 19th century.

Westminster Abbey, London, 2009

An example of the buttress roof, showing the Gothic influence of the Abbey (Image: Getty)

The final phase of the construction was completed in 1745, with the West Towers, carved out of Portland stone.

The abbey was heavily damaged in World War II in the bombings that ravaged London; fire watchmen were on guard to protect the historic building, but one incendiary which fell onto the lantern roof was not so easily put out and saw flames rise 40 feet into the city’s skies.

Over the years, the exterior has undergone numerous restoration works, with weather and pollution decaying the Reigate sandstone used for much of the exterior.

In 1987 the abbey was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site and two years later in 1989 a time capsule was buried in the grounds as part of the most recent restoration work which spanned 1973 to 1995.

A Pile Of Sand Bags In The Chapel Of Westminster Abbey In London

Services continued at Westminster Abbey through World War II despite the bombings (Image: Getty)

Westminster Abbey interior

The dazzling gothic exterior is nothing compared to its opulent interior. Pointed arches and rose windows all serve as key indicators of the Gothic influences taken from Europe.

But a number of English influences remain as well. Single aisles were used rather than the traditional European double aisle, which served to make the Gothic vault (the highest in England at nearly 102 feet) seem even higher.

Elaborate main arches and lavish use of Purbeck marble for the columns were another key nod to English architectural traditions.

The ribbed vaulting ceiling, one of the main features of the abbey, was completed in the 1500s by Abbot John Islip.

There is a pier of eight shafts carrying the vaulted ceiling, which is one of the many ways in which it is so spectacular.

Blind arcading and several stone benches surround the sides of the ceiling and are topped by enormous windows.

One section of the abbey is called the chapter house, and it was used by monks for daily meetings in the middle ages.

The ceiling in the chapter house is visually unmatched, as it appears to resemble an umbrella vault.

Eight segments of stone are held up by a pier in the centre, and the overall effect is that it looks identical to an umbrella.

Westminster Abbey ceilings

An example of the incredible ribbed vaulting ceiling at Westminster Abbey (Image: Getty)

The Umbrella vault ceiling in the chapter house

The Umbrella vault ceiling in the chapter house (Image: GETTY)

Westminster Abbey has lavish interiors

Westminster Abbey has lavish interiors (Image: GETTY)

Wall arcades and carvings would have been adorned in vermillion and gold, while magnificent stained glass window displays – including one by David Hockney added more recently – fill the lantern and southern transcript area of the abbey with colour.

This section of the church is situated between the high altar and the beginning of the Quire and is used as the ‘theatre’ where coronations can take place.

If you visit Westminster Abbey today, you’ll see the choir sing out from this part of the church, performing from stalls which were most recently replaced in 1848.

The term Quire was used as an alternative spelling of choir. Choirs performing here today echo a tradition dating back to the 10th century when the Benedictine monks would chant plainsong from the stalls.

Choristers Return To Sing In Westminster Abbey After Coronavirus Lockdown

Choirs have sung out from these stalls for centuries (Image: Getty)

Nave and altar, Westminster Abbey, London

Other stalls are assigned to clergy and officers of the Abbey (Image: Getty)

Beyond here, we come to the Cosmati Pavement in front of the High Altar which was laid in 1268 on the order of Henry III.

Measuring 24 feet 10 inches square, this tiled floor dates back 700 years and contains about 90,000 pieces of multicoloured glass and stone.

It stands out from other Cosmati flooring in Europe because it uses dramatic borders made of dark Purbeck marble trays rather than the more customary white marble.

The Cosmati family of Rome, who were well-known for similar work, inspired the naming of the floor.

The Cosmati Pavement’s design is symbolic on a number of levels. One of the claims made about the inscription is that it foretells the end of the world 19,863 years after it was created.

Featuring geometric patterns, the intricate mosaic stands in stark contrast to the black and white tiled marble floor of the Quire.


The Cosmati Pavement was created by workers from Rome using a technique called ‘opus sectile’ (Image: Getty)

The marvellous Lady Chapel was one of the great additions to Westminster Abbey, built at King Henry VII’s request and designed by architects Robert Janyns and William Vertue.

Featuring an ornate and delicately carved vaulted roof, and transverse arches, much of the design pays homage to Tudor emblems such as the rose.

The chapel has been called “one of the most perfect buildings ever erected in England” and “the wonder of the world”.

Other main sections that comprise the abbey include:

  • The Pyx chamber – where gold and silver was once storied beneath the monks’ dormitory.
  • The Jerusalem chamber – the former home of the abbot of Westminster Abbey and where King Henry IV died in 1413.
  • Poets’ corner – reserved as a memorial site for hundreds of writers include the Bronte sisters and William Shakespeare.

You can also find Britian’s oldest door in the abbey, leading to the Chapter House. This wooden structure was dated for the first time in 2005 using a process called dendrochronology, which found the wood was felled after 1032AD and the door constructed in the 1050s.

Queen Elizabeth was crowned at Westminster Abbey in 1953

Queen Elizabeth was crowned at Westminster Abbey in 1953 (Image: GETTY)

Most members of the Royal Family will attend the Coronation

Most members of the Royal Family will attend the Coronation (Image: GETTY)

Westminster Abbey and the Royal Family

Queen Elizabeth II was crowned Queen at the Abbey when she was 25-years-old, when an estimated 27 million Britons watched the ceremony.

The late Queen also exchanged vows with Prince Philip at Westminster Abbey in 1947.

The Prince and Princess of Wales, William and Kate also wed there in 2011.

Other romantic royal ceremonies have been held in the Abbey such as when Princess Anne wed Captain Mark Phillips there in 1973 or when the Duke of York married Sarah Ferguson in the Abbey in 1986.

The church serves as a poignant memorial to both Diana, Princess of Wales and the Queen Mother.

Five years after Diana’s funeral, the Queen Mother’s was held at the Abbey in 2002.

The late Queen frequently participated in thanksgiving and commemorative occasions.

This included a service at Westminster Abbey in 2016 to honour the 60th anniversary of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award programme.

Who is invited to Charles III’s Coronation?

Coronation seating plan for Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey will host the historic occasion with world leaders and invited guests watching on (Image: GETTY-EXPRESS)

King Charles and Queen Camilla may have decided to have a more slimmed-down Coronation than that of his late mother Queen Elizabeth II, but the guest list remains extensive. Here are just some of those invited to the momentous event:

Royal Family members: Prince William and Princess Kate, Prince George, Princess Charlotte, Prince Louis, Prince Harry, Princess Beatrice, Princess Eugenie, Zara Tindall, Mike Tindall, Prince Edward, Princess Anne,Timothy Laurence.

Other notable British royals or relations: Tom Parker Bowles, Laura Lopes, Andre Parker Bowles, Annabel Elliot, Marchioness of Lansdowne, Duke of Norfolk, Marquess of Cholmondeley, Baron Carrington, Earl of Errol, Earl of Dundee, Joseph Morrow, Baron Hastings, Duke of Argyll.

Foreign royals: King Felipe and Queen Letizia of Spain, Prince Albert and Princess Charlene of Monaco, King Car and Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden, King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima of the Netherlands, Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princes Mary of Denmark,  King Philippe and Queen Mathilde of Belgium, Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit of Norway, Crown Prince Fumihito and Crown Princess Kiko of Japan, Grand Duke Henri and Grand Duchess Maria Teresa of Luxembourg.

Foreign politicians: Emmanuel Macron, Jill Biden, Michelle O’Neill, Han Zheng, Ursula von der Leyen.

Politicians: Rishi Sunak, Domaniç Raab, Jeremy Hunt, Suella Braverman, Sir Keir Starmer, Boris Johnson, Liz Truss, Theresa May, David Cameron, Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, John Major, Tracy Brabin, Humza Yousaf.

Invited guests: Joanna Lumley, Jay Blades, David and Victoria Beckham, Stella McCartney, Rowan Atkinson, Bear Grylls, Lord Lloyd Webber, Dame Kelly Holmes, Amanda Holding, Rose Ayling Ellis, Katy Perry, Orlando Bloom.

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