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Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral

One of the greatest achievements of Edward the Confessor, who ruled England from 1042 to 1066, was the construction of Westminster Abbey. Born the son of King Ethelred the Unready and Emmaat at Islip in Oxfordshire, Edward was driven from England by the Danes and spent his exile in Normandy. The story goes that Edward vowed that if he should return safely to his kingdom, he would make a pilgrimage to St Peter’s, Rome. When he returned and was crowned at Winchester in 1042, he found it impossible to leave his subjects. The Pope released him from his vow on condition that he should found or restore a monastery to St Peter. This led to the building of Westminster Abby in the Norman style to replace the Saxon church at Westminster. Edward determined that the Minster should not be built in London, and so a place was found to the west of the city, hence it is called “Westminster.”

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey. There is no inscription in the Abbey dating from ll00 AD that reads “When I was young I thought I could change the world…” even though it is quoted as such in “Chicken Soup for the Soul”.

The Westminster Abbey was consecrated on 28 December l065, but Edward could not attend due to illness. He died on 5 January l066 and was buried in a shrine before the High Altar in his new church.

In 1534, King Henry VIII decreed the Act of Submission of the clergy and an Act of Succession followed, together with an Act of Supremacy which recognised the king as “the only supreme head of the Church of England called Anglicana Ecclesia.” In 1540, he dissolved the Benedictine monastery and despoiled Edward’s shrine. Edward’s body was buried in some obscure spot in the Abbey. In 1557, Mary I restored the shrine with the bones of St Edward the Confessor behind the High Altar. However, the Confessor’s coffin still lies in a cavity in the top part of the marble structure.

Since William the Conqueror was crowned in Westminster Abbey in 1066, and, with the exceptions of Kings Edward V (1483) and Edward VIII (1936), all coronations have taken place there. Most recently the funeral of Princess Diana was held at the Abbey in September 1997, although she was buried at Althrop, her family home in Northamptonshire.

Westminster Cathedral

Westminster Cathedral. The Campanile Bell Tower is 83 metres (273 feet) in height and from a four-sided viewing gallery it is possible to see much of London.

Westminster Abbey is often confused with Westminster Cathedral (pictured). Westminster Abbey is an Anglican Church. Westminster Cathedral is a Roman Catholic Church, situated about 400 m (437 yd) west of the Abbey. The Cathedral site was reclaimed by the Benedictine monks who were the builders of Westminster Abbey and used as a market. In the 17th Century the land was sold by the Abbey for the construction of a prison. The Catholic Church acquired the site in 1884. Building on Westminster Cathedral started in 1903 and the Church was consecrated in 1910.

Edward the Confessor
Edward the Confessor was not a particularly successful king, but his character and piety endeared him to his people. He is represented as tall, dignified and with a long white beard.

Edward was regarded as a saint long before he was officially canonised as Saint and Confessor by Pope Alexander III in ll6l. The Confessor title applies to those who suffered for their faith and demonstrated their sanctity in the face of worldly temptations, but who were not martyrs.

The Westminster Abbey’s formal title is The Collegiate Church of St Peter, Westminster. The popular title Westminster Abbey” continues to be used, even though there have been no monks here since the l6th Century.

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