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Westminster Part 2

Westminster Abbey ( Map location 5 )

You should now be standing out the front of Westminster Abbey. The first abbey church was constructed on this site in the 10th century. The present structure was begun in 1245 at the request of Henry III. It has been the burial place of Britain's monarchs since the 13th century. The structure is described as a living church that enshrines the history of the nation. Much more than a church, Westminster Abbey is crammed with an extraordinary collection of tombs and monuments honoring some of Britain's greatest public figures.

The actual entrance to the Abbey is to the left of where you are currently standing. The Great North Door provides the entrance to this structure. Pick up a guide map as you enter and remember to remove your hat and be respectful as you move around the Abbey, as it is a church after all ! 

You can take your own tour around The Abbey but an audio tour or one conducted by a verger is also available. Enquire at the information desk. After entering the Great North Door you stand in the Transept. On either side you will see memorials to former statesmen of Great Britain. In front of you should be the Lantern and South Transept. Move through the gates in front of you and turn left.

You now move into an area of The Abbey that was added in the 15th Century, it is known as The House of Kings. Nearly all the monarchs of England have been crowned in the Abbey, the last being that of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. Many of the monarchs crowned here are also buried here and lay on your right near the shrine of St Edward. As you move forward keep to the left and the The Lady Chapel.

The Lady Chapel consist of a nave and two aisles, it was built by King Henry VII between 1503 and 1519. It is the home of the Order of Bath, one of Britain's orders of Chivalry. You will see name plaques on the stall as well as banners along the wall. As you proceed through the Chapel towards its apex you pass on your left Queen Elizabeth the First [1533 - 1603] and Queen Mary the First [1516 - 1558]. At the apex of the Chapel is the Royal Air Force [RAF] chapel, upon entering you pass King Henry the Seventh [1457 - 1509]. Proceeding out of the Chapel ( heading east ), keeping to your left you pass, on the left, Mary, Queen of Scots [1542 - 1587]. proceeding down the stairs you will see the coronation chair and Edward the Confessor's shrine that was built in 1301 and has been used at coronations ever since. Proceeding to your left you pass King Edward the Third [1312 - 1377] and King Richard the Second [1367 - 1400].

You should now find yourself in the South Transept and what is known as Poet's corner. Here you will find many renown writers, actors and musicians including ; Geoffrey Chaucer [1343 - 1400], William Shakespeare [1564 - 1616], George Frederick Handel [1685 - 1759] and T.S. Elliot. Proceed further west ( down the cross ) and into the centre of the Abbey.

The heart of the Abbey is the Shrine which is behind the High Altar screen as you face east. It contains the body of St Edward the Confessor [c.1002 - 1066]. The mosaic pavement dates from 1268 and it is here that coronations, royal weddings and funerals take place. You should also be able to see the richly decorated stalls of the Quire.

Turn south and head towards the cloister. The cloister is where much of the life of the medieval monastery took place. Down a corridor, off the cloister is the Chapter house where the monks of the Abbey met and heard the Rule of St Benedict. This octagonal room, remarkable for its 13th century floor coverings and six large stained glass windows that show scenes from the Abbey's history.

 Next to the Chapter House you will find The Pyx Chamber. This was were coinage was tested in medieval times and was at one stage the King's treasury. Next to The Pyx Chamber is The Undercroft Museum which holds many of the Abbey's treasures including wood, plaster and wax effigies of monarchs. On the northern side of the cloister you will find some refreshments if you need to take a break. Once you have completed your visit through the cloisters re-enter the Abbey ( you may need to show you original entry tickets again ).

You should now be standing in the Nave, which is the largest single space in the church. At a height of 31 metres ( 102 feet ) it is the highest in England. It also contains some important monuments including the Tomb of the Unknown soldier. Please respect the area designated for quiet prayer. You will also find the Tomb of Winston Churchill [1874 - 1965]. Outside the West Door is the monument to the Innocent victim. Statues on the West face of the Abbey represent Truth, Justice Mercy and Peace. Above them are ten martyrs of the twentieth century.

The Abbey bookshop is just on your left as you leave the West Door and some interesting items. Having now completed your tour of Westminster Abbey head north.

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