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Westminster Abbey, formally titled the Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster, is a large, mainly Gothic, church in the City of Westminster, London, located just to the west of the Palace of Westminster. It is one of the most notable religious buildings in the United Kingdom and has been the traditional place of coronation and burial site for English and, later, British monarchs. The abbey is a Royal Peculiar and between 1540 and 1556 had the status of a cathedral; the building is no longer an abbey nor cathedral however, having instead the status since 1560 of a “Royal Peculiar” – a church responsible directly to the Sovereign.
An architectural masterpiece of the 13th to 16th centuries, Westminster Abbey also presents a unique pageant of British history – the shrine of St Edward the Confessor, the tombs of kings and queens, and countless memorials to the famous and the great. It has been the setting for every Coronation since 1066 and for numerous other royal occasions, including sixteen royal weddings. Today it is still a church dedicated to regular worship and to the celebration of great events in the life of the nation. Neither a cathedral nor a parish church, Westminster Abbey (or the Collegiate Church of St Peter, Westminster to give it its correct title) is a “Royal Peculiar” under the jurisdiction of a Dean and Chapter, subject only to the Sovereign and not to any archbishop or bishop.
Westminster Abbey, a work of architectural genius, a place of daily worship, deploying the resources of high musical expertise, a burial place of kings, statesmen, poets, scientists, warriors and musicians, is the result of a process of development across the centuries, which represents the response of a monastery and later a post-Reformation church to the stimulus and challenge of its environment.
According to a tradition first reported by Sulcard in about 1080, a church was founded at the site (then known as Thorn Ey (Thorn Island)) in the 7th century, at the time of Mellitus (d. 624), a Bishop of London. Construction of the present church began in 1245, on the orders of Henry III.
Since 1066, when Harold Godwinson and William the Conqueror were crowned, the coronations of English and British monarchs have been held here. Since 1100, there have been at least 16 royal weddings at the abbey. Two were of reigning monarchs (Henry I and Richard II), although before 1919 there had been none for some 500 years.
The Westminster Abbey Museum is located in the 11th-century vaulted undercroft beneath the former monks’ dormitory in Westminster Abbey. This is one of the oldest areas of the Abbey, dating back almost to the foundation of the Norman church by Edward the Confessor in 1065. This space has been used as a museum since 1908.
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