On Friday the eyes of the world will be keenly focused on one place, Westminster Abbey in London. This is the place of the very royal wedding, where Prince William will marry Kate Middleton. But this ain’t just any church, Westminster Abbey has a pretty amazing back story. Here are 10 things about Westminster Abbey you (and the kids) may not have known.
Westminster Abbey is just a nickname; it actually has a much longer and proper name. The full name is the Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster. But that is quite a mouthful.
The abbey is just part of the ground. It’s also known as the Royal Peculiar and was deemed a cathedral from 1546 to 1556, but now it’s back to just abbey. A ‘Royal Peculiar’ isn’t some kind of odd habit that the queens and kings indulge in but rather a, “place of worship that falls directly under the jurisdiction of the British monarch, rather than under a bishop.”
This church is old, like really old. It was established way back in 1560.
But the Abbey was apparently first founded in the time of the Bishop of London, Mellitus (who died around 624). Back then the area was called Thorn Ey (or Thorn Island).
It was named for St Peter because way back in the day a fisherman supposedly saw a vision of St Peter in the River Thames. And since then the gift of salmon to the Abbey has been a tradition. The Fishmonger’s Company still gives a salmon each and every year.
Since around 1066 after King Harold and William the Conqueror - almost all the royal coronations take place at Westminster Abbey (one didn’t due to some logistics issues). There is a fancy throne called King Edward’s Chair that the British sovereigns sit on right at the moment of coronation. It’s old too. It’s been used since 1308.
Today, Westminster Abbey is known mostly for where Kate Middleton will wed Prince William, and although it is known for royal weddings, it has only been a tradition since 1919. Before that there was a five century break from weddings, with the last one taking place in 1382.
Noted weddings that took place there include the marriage of King George VI to the Queen Mother, the wedding of Queen Elizabeth II, and Prince Andrew’s marriage to Sarah Ferguson. But Prince Charles and Princess Diana did not get married there; they wed at St Paul’s Cathedral.
Westminster Abbey is also known for it’s burials. Royals are buried inside the chapel and monks, and other people associated with the Abbey and a slew of writers are buried in the Cloisters as well as other areas around the Abbey. Many buried there are important writers and poets such as William Blake, Robert Burns, Charles Dickens, T.S. Eliot, Lord Byron, the Bronte sisters, Rudyard Kipling, Jane Austin, Dylan Thomas, John Keats and Geoffrey Chaucer among many others. Yup, pretty amazing.
Princess Diana’s public funeral was at Westminster Abbey but she was buried on the Althop estate, on a little island in the middle on a lake.
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