WESTMINSTER ABBEY 

16th February 2015

 

 

 

 

In his talk on 16th February Geoff Roberts invited Members of the Rotary Club of Great Missenden and District to take an imaginary journey back through our history to discover how the Abbey came to be built where it is and how it has survived the tests of time.

.We were told that Edward the Connfessor, Henry III and Henry VII were the three monarchs to whom the abbey owed its existance and who made it a very special place.Henry III rebuilt the Abbey in honour of the Royal Saint Edward the Confessor whose relics were placed in a shrine in the sanctuary and now lie in a burial vault beneath the 1268 Cosmati mosaic pavement, in front of the High Altar.

Edward the Confessor was the first to be buried in the Abbey and Harold II (Godwinson) was probably crowned in the Abbey  although the first documented coronation was that of William the Conqueror.

We were told that in addition to Limestone from Caen in Normandy, stone from Stapleton in Yorkshire and Beer in Devon the following were all used in the construction of the Abbey.

  1. Henry VII's Chapel (1509): original Cretaceous Reigate Stone below the Jurassic Bath Stone exterior, recently extensively replaced by white Portland Stone.
  2. Chapter House: renovated (1867) in grey-green Jurassic Chilmark Limestone, a variety of Portland Stone from Wiltshire.
  3. St Edward's Shrine (1269): Jurassic Purbeck Marble crammed with fossil bivalves with horse-shoe outlines which have been called Devil's hoofprints.
  4. Statesmen's Aisle: statues are of Carrara Marble. Gladstone's plinth is a striking example of marble breccia.
  5. Lantern floor of squares of Carrara (white) and Belgian (black) marbles.
  6. Tomb of the Unknown Soldier: black Carboniferous Limestone from Belgium, the scene of the bloodiest battles of the First World War.
  7. West Front: blocks of the original (1243) Reigate Stone have lost their sharp outline and become pillow shaped. Portland Stone has been used as a replacement.

The Abbey has a connection with Parliament and the Bank of England because The Chapter house was originally used in the 13th century by Benedictine monks for daily meetings. It later became a meeting place of the King's Great Council and the Commons, predecessors of Parliament.

On 16 January 1540 monastic life at Westminster came to an end when Henry VIII dissolved the monastery and the deed of surrender was signed. Many of the monks retired or went into "civilian" life.  However, the Abbot became the first Dean of the new Cathedral Church founded by Henry and the Prior and several monks became clergy in the new church.  A bishop was appointed to the new see of Westminster but after ten short years the bishopric was surrendered and the Church became a Cathedral within the diocese of London.

The monks, however, were destined to return just for a short time when Queen Mary I, a Roman Catholic, restored the Benedictine Abbey under Abbot Feckenham in 1556.  Monks were brought together from former establishments and at least two monks from the previous Westminster community returned.  But Mary died in November 1558 and her Protestant half-sister Elizabeth I became Queen and the monks were removed.  Elizabeth established the present Collegiate Church of St Peter, Westminster (the Abbey's correct title) in 1560

The Abbey is under the direct control of the Monarch by Royal Peculiar and the Monarch is referred to as 'The Visitor'.

Christopher Wren's contribution to the Abbey was the Grerat West Tower in 1750.

Wren’s greatest work was St Paul’s Cathedral, London, ordered to be rebuilt by Charles II after the Great Fire of London. Wren based his design on St Peters in Rome, the work of the great architect Michelangelo.  Wren’s design was a combination of the Renaissance, Gothic and Baroque surmounted by an immense dome with a great lantern, based on Brunelleschi’s design for Florence Cathedral. Wren gave London one of its most distinguished buildings but the completed structure bore little relation to the original plan, which had been approved by the conservative clerics of Established Church.   

Wren is buried in the crypt in St Paul’s. The inscription on his tomb reads “Lector, si monumentum requiris, circumspice”: “ If you would see his monument, reader, look around you.”  

Much of the funds for the rebuilding of St Paul’s were appropriated from the church of St Peters, Westminster hence the saying “robbing Peter to pay Paul”.

 

 

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