Best known as the center for royal weddings and burial place for greats such as Queen Elizabeth I, Charles Darwin, Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Dickens, and Sir Isaac Newton, Westminster Abbey is much more than just that. Its history reaches deep into the history of England, to the first Anglo-Saxon kings. It was the first Romanesque church built in England. The present church was built three centuries later, in thirteenth century, on the same spot, during the reign of Henry III as his burial site to later become burial place of many important figures of English history.
During its turbulent history it was rebuilt, remodeled, revamped, expanded and upgraded, and then, disregarded, forgotten and mistreated as the Church of England split from the Catholic church. At some point, anyone could have sat on a chair once intended for kings only.
Built as one of the earliest large-scale examples of Gothic style in England, it has introduced constructive and decorative elements for the first time seen on the islands, like tracery windows. As most architectural innovations of that time were brought from France, they were not implemented as they were conceived right away but in a somewhat free fashion, in this case not in connection to the system of vaulting shafts.
From the main church built in the early Gothic style, the “Lady Chapel” of Henry VII built at its eastern end as an example of Peripendicular Gothic style known for its highlighted verticality, to its western Gothic Revival towers added in 18th century, the abbey showcases the evolution of Gothic style in England.
From the gargoyles guarding the roof, the sculptures on the ribs of buttresses, the 20th century martyrs above the north entrance, Handel, Shakespeare, it is a tribute to the whole of the western Christianity, immortalized in sculptures. Having housed more than 10 chapels dedicated to the saints, tombs of more than 3.000 notable figures of English poets, scientists and statesmen it is also a mausoleum.
Westminster Abbey is more than just an important church, it’s a marvelous piece of architecture. It is however more than just marvelous architecture; it’s an exhibition of paintings, stained glass, sculptures and various precious artifacts, a cemetery of nobles and a museum of English history with its exhibition in use, and as such, it saves its most valued showpieces for the most determined observers.
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