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Inside Westminster Abbey | Everything You Need to Know

Westminster Abbey stretches across 32,000 sq.ft and is a vast monument. With all of its many elements, it can’t just be called a Royal Church. Also known as the Collegiate Church of Saint Peter at Westminster, this abbey is the most notable religious building in the entire United Kingdom.

After William the Conqueror was coronated at Westminster Abbey in 1066, all the Royal coronations have taken place here. The Westminster Abbey is the burial site for more than 3300 people of the past, boasting a rich and eventful history. Before you plan a visit, read further to find out more about what is inside Westminster Abbey.

Take a look inside Westminster Abbey

What's inside Westminster Abbey?

Apart from being the final resting place for more than 3000 people, this grand church is also sometimes called "Britain's Valhalla", similar to the great, majestic hall located in Asgard in Norse Mythology.

cloisters westminster abbey

The Cloisters

The Cloisters were once the busiest parts of the abbey as this is where the monks spent most of their time. This is where they meditated, exercised and they also head to the other monastic buildings through here. The current cloisters in the building date from the 13th to 15th centuries as they had to be reconstructed after a fire in 1298. There is also a memorial fountain in the cloister garth that pays respects to Lancelot Capability Brown, an English landscape architect known as the last of the greats from the 18th century. 

poets' corner westminster abbey
chapter house westminster abbey

Chapter House

If the Cloisters were where the monks meditated, the Chapter House was where they gathered with the abbot to pray or ‘hold chapter’. The construction of the Chapter house was completed around 1255 as a part of Henry III’s rebuilding of the abbey. It is the largest one of its kind and is octagonal-shaped with tiered seating to hold up to 80 monks. It has a central pillar that fans out to form a vaulted ceiling.

Henry VII Chapel Westminster Abbey
nave westminster abbey

Nave

Because of the death of Henry III, the reconstruction of the abbey stopped mid-way and the old nave made with Norman architecture remained attached to the new building. The reconstruction then began in 1376 and took almost 150 years to complete. The new design closely resembled the old design, but the decoration wasn’t as lavish as the eastern part of the abbey. It is situated at the western end of the abbey and also holds many graves and memorials, including Charles Darwin, Sir Winston Churchill, and Stephen Hawking. 

choir westminster abbey
royal tombs westminster abbey
modern martyrs westminster abbey

Modern Martyrs

Westminster Abbey is home to many memorials on the site. But there is also one dedicated site to Christian martyrs who gave up their lives because of their beliefs. This includes victims of Nazism, religious prejudice, and communism in the 20th century. Each statue is carved from limestone, all of which sit atop the West door, a place that had remained empty since the middle-ages. Unveiled in 1998, the statues include Dr Martin Luther King Jr, St Oscar Romero, Manche Masemola and many more. 

pyx chamber westminster abbey

Pyx Chamber

One of the oldest surviving parts of Westminster Abbey, the Pyx Chamber is a low vaulted room that is a part of the Undercroft. It lies off the East Cloister underneath the monks’ dormitory. It gets its name from “Trial of Pyx”, a trial that melted down measured silver to show that the coinage was pure. It may have been used as a sacristy (storage for religious objects) during Henry III. Later on, a large medieval chest used to hold vestments, and other chests included important documents like foreign policies and treaties. 

coronation chair westminster abbey

Coronation Chair

One of the most precious and famous pieces of furniture in the world, the Coronation Chair sits in St George’s Chapel in Westminster Abbey. For coronations, the chair is placed facing the High Altar and has been in use since 1308. King Edward I gave the order to make a chair enclosing the famous Stone of Scone, a stone upon which many Scottish monarchs sat for hundreds of years. This chair has been used for 38 coronations for the reigning monarchs and also 14 queen consorts who had separate coronation ceremonies.

liber regalis westminster abbey

Queen's Diamond Jubilee Galleries

Located 16 meters above the abbey floor, the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Galleries allow you to experience amazing views of the Palace of Westminster and the Chapter House on your way up. It holds some of the most prized possessions of the abbey, including the Liber Regalis, a 14th century guide to coronations and funerals, Henry VII's effigy head, a life-like effigy that is the only thing surviving the King's funeral, the Royal Marriage License of Prince William and his wife, Kate Middleton, and much more.

How to get inside Westminster Abbey?

Westminster Abbey is open to anyone and everyone, whether you wish to explore the church or attend a service. You can enter the abbey for free if you want to attend a service or prayer. However, if you wish to explore the abbey and learn more about the church and the history of British Royals, you will need to buy yourself a ticket.

You can enter the abbey from one of the three entrances:

  • The Great West Door - this is the main entrance for the public
  • The North Entrance - this entrance is opposite the Parliament Square
  • The North Door - this is for the guests who are visiting clergy or have a Church pass



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Visitor tips

  • Westminster Abbey is home to the Poets' Corner, where you can see the memorials and graves of some of the most renowned playwrights, poets, and writers like Dickens, Bronte Sisters, and T.S. Eliot. So, if you are a literature enthusiast, this is a must-visit spot inside the abbey.
  • Be sure to attend at least one of the daily services at the Quire. The choir stalls are a delight to witness there.
  • The Queen's Diamond Jubilee Galleries are newly opened in the abbey's triforium space, displaying its greatest treasures and telling its 1000-year history. Great for anyone into the British monarchy and its history!
  • Visit the Shrine of St. Edward the Confessor. This is the final resting place of the 11th-century king who founded the original abbey, imbuing the space with profound religious significance.
  • Spend some time at the Henry VII Lady Chapel. It is an exquisite Perpendicular Gothic church, with its fan-vaulted ceiling and Tudor emblems, and is an architectural highlight.

Frequently asked questions about what's inside Westminster Abbey

What is the architectural style of Westminster Abbey's interior?

The interior of Westminster Abbey is predominantly Gothic, characterized by pointed arches, ribbed vaults, and flying buttresses.

What is the oldest part of Westminster Abbey?

The oldest part of the Abbey is the Undercroft, part of the original Norman structure built under King Edward the Confessor and used as a burial place for monks.

What are the cloisters used for in Westminster Abbey?

The cloisters in Westminster Abbey were historically used for meditation and prayer by the monks. Today, they serve as a passageway connecting different parts of the Abbey, including the Chapter House and the College Garden.

What does the Chapter House in Westminster Abbey contain?

The Chapter House is known for its octagonal shape and stunning medieval tiled floor. It was historically used for daily meetings by the monks and for early Parliament gatherings.

What unique artifacts are housed in Westminster Abbey?

Among its many treasures, the Abbey houses the Westminster Retable, England's oldest altarpiece, and the effigies of medieval kings and queens.

Can I see the Royal Tombs in Westminster Abbey?

Yes, you can view the Royal Tombs, including those of Edward the Confessor, Henry III, and other monarchs, integral to the Abbey's history and allure.

Is there a particular area dedicated to modern martyrs in Westminster Abbey?

Yes, the Abbey includes a modern martyrs' statue above the Great West Door, commemorating 20th-century martyrs like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King Jr.