Westminster Abbey, view from the courtyard

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Westminster Abbey, view from the courtyard ( 480x640 )
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Westminster Abbey is a church in the Westminster part of London right next to the Houses of Parliament. Its official name is Collegiate Church of St Peter, Westminster. It is traditional place for coronations, marriages and burial site for monarchs. It is a part of UNESCO World Heritage Site. Westminster Abbey is owned directly by the royal family. Until the 19th century, Westminster was the third seat of learning in England, after Oxford and Cambridge.

The tradition says that there was a shrine built on this site in 616. However, the historic abbey was built by Edward the Confessor between 1045 – 1050 and consecrated on 28 December 1065. The original purpose of this Romanesque church was to house Benedictine monks. The abbey was rebuilt in Gothic style between 1245-1517. Henry III started it and it was finished by the architect Henry Yevele in the reign of King Richard II. Henry VII added a Perpendicular style chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary in 1503 (known as the Henry VII Lady Chapel). The abbey was closed in 1540 and it became a cathedral in 1550. At this time, and many times after, the abbey was saved by its close connections to the monarchy and state. The abbey's two western towers were built between 1722 and 1745 by Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor in Gothic Revival style. Further rebuilding and restoration occurred in the 19th century under Sir George Gilbert Scott.

Westminster Abbey is the traditional place of coronation of English monarchs. Since the coronation of William the Conqueror in 1066, all English monarchs (except Lady Jane Grey, Edward V and Edward VIII, who did not have coronations) have been crowned in the Abbey. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the traditional cleric in the coronation ceremony. St. Edward's Chair, the throne on which British sovereigns are seated at the moment of coronation, is housed within the Abbey.

Westminster Abbey is also the burial site of many famous people. The first one to be buried here was Edward the Confessor and after him, most English kings and queens were buried here. Aristocrats were buried in side chapels and monks and people associated with the Abbey were buried in the cloisters and other areas. One of the most famous is Poets’ Corner that started with the burial of Geoffrey Chaucer. Abbey musicians such as Henry Purcell were also buried in their place of work. Subsequently it became a great honor to be buried or memorialized here. The practice spread from aristocrats and poets to generals, admirals, politicians, scientists, doctors, and others.

Westminster Abbey is one of the most visited tourist attractions in London, although the admission fees are quite big.
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