Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey .—Nearly opposite the Houses of Parliament stands Westminster Abbey, open to inspection on the north, west, and east, but much crowded upon by private dwellings on the south.  In very early times this spot of ground was a small insular tract, surrounded by the waters of the Thames, and called Thorney Island.  Here a monastic institution was founded on the introduction of Christianity into Britain.  Under Edward the Confessor an abbey was raised upon the site of the ruined monastic building.  The ground-plan, as usual, bore the form of the cross.  Rights and endowments were granted; and the edifice assumed a great degree of architectural grandeur.  It had become the place for the inauguration of the English monarchs; and William the Conqueror was crowned here with great pomp in 1066.  Henry III. and Edward I. enlarged the abbey; and the building continued nearly in the state in which they left it, until Henry VII. added a chapel, built in the perpendicular style, on which the greatest skill of the architect and the sculptor was displayed; exhibiting one of the most splendid structures of the age, and so highly esteemed, that it was enjoined that the remains of royalty alone should be interred within its walls.  During the reign of Henry VIII., the abbey was considerably defaced; but on the surrender of its revenues, Henry raised Westminster to the dignity of a city, and its abbey was constituted a cathedral.  It was, however, afterwards re-united to the see of London, in 1550.  (An archbishopric of Westminster, created by the Pope a few years ago, is connected only with Roman Catholic matters, and is not recognised by the English law.)  Westminster Abbey, during the reign of William and Mary, was thoroughly repaired, and the towers added at the western entrance, under the direction of Sir Christopher Wren.  These towers, however, though good in outline and general mass, are not in harmony with the rest of the building.  The length of the abbey is 416 feet; breadth at the transept, 203 feet; and at the nave, 102 feet; height of the west towers, 225 feet.  The exterior measurement, including Henry VII.'s Chapel, is 530 feet.

Westminster Abbey, and St. Margaret's Church

On entering at the great western door between the towers, the magnificence of the abbey soon becomes apparent.  The interior displays grand masses of marble columns separating the nave from the side aisles.  A screen, surmounted by a noble organ, divides the nave from the choir; while beyond the eye soars, amid graceful columns, tracery, and decorated windows, to the summit of the eastern arch that overlooks the adjacent chapels.  The walls on both sides display a great profusion of sepulchral monuments, among which are some finely executed pieces of sculpture, and touching memorials of those whose exploits or exertions have deserved the notice of posterity; but too many, unfortunately, are in very bad taste.  Above the line of tombs are chambers and galleries, once occupied by ecclesiastics; solemn and dreary in their antiquity, though relieved by occasional sunbeams glancing across the misty height of the nave.  The northern window is richly ornamented with stained glass.

Westminster Abbey—Chapel of Henry VII.

The Chapel of Edward the Confessor is at the eastern end of the choir, and contains the shrine of St. Edward: that it was an exquisite piece of workmanship, is evident even in its decay.  Here also is the coronation-chair, under which is placed the celebrated stone brought from Scone, in Scotland, by Edward I. in 1297.  The Chapel of Henry VII. is also at the eastern end; and among the ashes of many royal personages interred here are those of Mary and Elizabeth.  The ascent to this splendid work of Gothic art is by steps of black marble.  The entrance gates display workmanship of extraordinary richness in brass.  The effect produced on entering this chapel is striking: the roof is wrought in stone into an astonishing variety of figures and devices; the stalls are of oak, having the deep tone of age, with Gothic canopies, all elaborately carved.  Here, before the remodelling of the order, used to be installed the knights of the Order of the Bath.  In their stalls are placed brass plates of their armorial insignia, and above are suspended their banners, swords, and helmets; beneath the stalls are seats for the esquires.  The pavement is composed of black and white marble; beneath which is the royal vault.  The magnificent tomb of Henry VII. and his queen stands in the body of this chapel, in a curious chantry of cast brass, admirably executed, and interspersed with effigies, armorial bearings, and devices relating to the union of the red and white roses.

The number of statues and monuments in Westminster Abbey is very great.  Most of them are contained in side-chapels, of which there are several: viz., St. Benedict's, St. Edmund's, St. Nicholas's, St. Paul's, St. Erasmus's, John the Baptist's, and Bishop Islip's; besides Henry VII.'s and Edward the Confessor's Chapels, already mentioned.  These Chapels contain about ninety monuments and shrines, some of great beauty.  The Choir, the Transept, and the Nave, also contain a large amount of sculpture—many specimens in wretched taste, by the side of some of the first works of Flaxman, Chantrey, Roubiliac, Nollekins, Bacon, Westmacott, Gibson, Behnes, and others.  Poets' Corner, occupying about half of the south transept, is a famous place for the busts and monuments of eminent men—including Chaucer, Spencer, Shakespeare, Drayton, Ben Jonson, Milton, Butler, Davenant, Cowley, Dryden, Prior, Rowe, Gay, Addison, Thomson, Goldsmith, Gray, Mason, Sheridan, Southey, Campbell, &c.  Lord Macaulay and Lord Palmerston were recently buried in the Abbey—the one in January, 1860; the other in October, 1865.  William Makepeace Thackeray does not lie there, but at Kensal Green, though his bust is placed next to the statue of Joseph Addison.  On the 14th June, 1870, Charles Dickens was interred there.  His grave is situated at the foot of the coffin of Handel, and at the head of the coffin of R. B. Sheridan, and between the coffins of Lord Macaulay and Cumberland the dramatist.  Near to England's great humorist, towards his feet, lie Dr. Johnson and Garrick, while near them lies Thomas Campbell.  Shakespeare's monument is not far from the foot of the grave.  Goldsmith's is on the left.  A monumental brass, to the memory of Robert Stephenson, has recently been inlaid in the floor of the nave.  The Cloisters  and the Chapter House  contain some curious old effigies.

Westminster Abbey is a collegiate church, with a dean and chapter, who possess a considerable authority over the adjoining district, and a revenue of about £30,000 per annum.  The abbey may be considered as sub-divided into chapels; but in the present day divine service (at 7.45,10, and 3) is performed only in a large enclosed space near the eastern extremity of the building—except on Sunday evenings during a portion of the year, when service is performed in the nave, in a similar way to the Sunday evening services under the dome of St. Paul's.  This evening service, at 7 o'clock, is very striking in effect.  There are usually a considerable number of strangers present at the services, particularly at that on Sunday evenings.  The entrance chiefly used is that at Poets' Corner, nearly opposite the royal entrance to the Houses of Parliament; but on Sunday evenings the great western entrance is used.  There is admittance every week-day free to the chief parts of the building, and to other parts on payment of a fee of 6d.