Essential Architecture-  Architecture in the Da Vinci Code

Westminster Abbey The Collegiate Church of St Peter


Henry Yevele, two western towers were built between 1722 and 1745 by Nicholas Hawksmoor. Further rebuilding and restoration occurred in the 19th century under Sir George Gilbert Scott.


Westminster, London




early example of a Gothic Revival design


constructed from Portland stone



getting there

Nearest London Underground stations: 
St. James's Park (District, Circle lines) 
Westminster (Jubilee, District, Circle lines) 
Relevance to the Da Vinci Code:

Sophie’s and Langdon’s research leads them to the discovery that Sir Isaac Newton is the knight they are looking for, the one buried by a Pope, because they learn he was buried by Alexander Pope. They go to Westminster Abbey, where Newton is buried. There, the Teacher lures them to the garden with a note saying he has Teabing. They go there only to discover that Teabing himself is the Teacher. Teabing suspected that Saunière had decided not to release the secret of the Priory of Sion, because the Church threatened to kill Sophie if the secret was released. Wanting the secret to be public knowledge, he had decided to find the Grail himself. 

The Abbey's western façade

The Collegiate Church of St Peter, Westminster, which is almost always referred to as Westminster Abbey, is a mainly Gothic church, on the scale of a cathedral, in Westminster, London, just to the west of the Palace of Westminster. It is the traditional place of coronation and burial site for English monarchs.


According to tradition a shrine was first founded in 616 on the present site, then known as Thorney Island; it was said to have been miraculously consecrated after a fisherman on the River Thames saw a vision of Saint Peter, and for many centuries the monks received presents of salmon from the Thames fishermen. While the existence of this shrine is uncertain, there was certainly a community of Benedictine monks before the first historic Abbey was built by King Edward the Confessor around 1045–1050. Its construction originated in King Edward's failure to keep a vow to go on a pilgrimage; the Pope agreed that he redeem himself by building a church to St. Peter. It was consecrated on December 28, 1065, immediately before the Confessor's funeral and the last Saxon coronation of his successor King Harold.

A plan dated 1894.

The only extant depiction of the original Abbey, in the Romanesque style that is called "Norman" in England, together with the adjacent Palace of Westminster, is in the Bayeux Tapestry. The Confessor's shrine subsequently played a great part in his canonisation.

The Abbot and learned monks, in close proximity to the royal Palace of Westminster, became a powerful force in the centuries after the Norman Conquest: the Abbot was often employed on royal service and in due course took his place in the House of Lords as of right. Henry III ordered the rebuilding of the Abbey in the Gothic style, as a shrine to honour Edward the Confessor and as a suitably regal setting for Henry's own tomb, under the highest Gothic nave in England. The work continued between 1245-1517 and was largely 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 Chapel).

Although the Abbey was seized by Henry VIII in 1534 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and closed in 1540, becoming a cathedral until 1550, its royal connections saved it from the destruction wrought on most other English abbeys. The expression "robbing Peter to pay Paul" may arise from this period when money meant for the Abbey, which was dedicated to St Peter, was diverted to the treasury of St Paul's Cathedral. It suffered damage during the turbulent 1640s, when it was attacked by Puritan iconoclasts, but was again protected by its close ties to the state during the Commonwealth period. Oliver Cromwell was given an elaborate funeral there in 1658, only to be disinterred in January 1661 and posthumously hanged from a nearby gibbet.

The choir in 1848.

The Abbey was restored to the Benedictines under the Catholic Queen Mary, but they were again ejected under Queen Elizabeth I in 1559. In 1579, Elizabeth re-established Westminster as a "Royal Peculiar" — a church responsible directly to the sovereign, rather than to a diocesan bishop — and made it the Collegiate Church of St Peter, (that is a church with an attached chapter of canons, headed by a dean). The last Abbot was made the first Dean.

The abbey's two western towers were built between 1722 and 1745 by Nicholas Hawksmoor, constructed from Portland stone to an early example of a Gothic Revival design. Further rebuilding and restoration occurred in the 19th century under Sir George Gilbert Scott.

Until the 19th century, Westminster was the third seat of learning in England, after Oxford and Cambridge. It was here that the first third of the King James Bible Old Testament and the last half of the New Testament were translated. The New English Bible was also put together here in the 20th century.


Since the coronations in 1066 of both King Harold and William the Conqueror, 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; from 1296 to 1996 the chair also housed the Stone of Scone upon which the kings of Scotland are crowned, but pending another coronation the Stone is now kept in Scotland.

Burials and Memorials

The Abbey at night, from Dean's Yard. Artificial light reveals the exoskeleton formed by flying buttresses

Henry III rebuilt the Abbey in honour of the Royal Saint Edward the Confessor whose memorial and relics were placed in the Sanctuary. Henry III was buried nearby as were the Plantagenet kings of England, their wives and relatives. Subsequently, most Kings and Queens of England were buried here, although Henry VIII and Charles I are buried at St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, as are all monarchs and royals since George II.

In 2005 the original ancient burial tomb of Edward the Confessor was discovered, beneath the 1268 Cosmati mosaic pavement, in front of the High Altar. A series of royal tombs dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries was also discovered using ground-penetrating radar.

Aristocrats were buried in side chapels and monks and people associated with the Abbey were buried in the Cloisters and other areas. One of these was Geoffrey Chaucer, who was buried here as he had apartments in the Abbey where he was employed as master of the Kings Works. Other poets were buried around Chaucer in what became known as Poets' Corner. Abbey musicians such as Henry Purcell were also buried in their place of work. Subsequently it became an honour to be buried or memorialised here. The practice spread from aristocrats and poets to generals, admirals, politicians, scientists, doctors, etc., etc. These include:


Westminster Abbey with a procession of Knights of the Bath, by Canaletto, 1749

Clement Attlee, 1st Earl Attlee 
Angela Georgina Burdett-Coutts 
Charles Darwin 
James Clerk Maxwell 
J.J. Thomson 
Saint Edward the Confessor 
Ben Jonson 
David Livingstone 
Sir Isaac Newton 
Ernest Rutherford, 1st Baron Rutherford 
William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin 
The Unknown Warrior 
George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham 
Ludovic Stewart, 2nd Duke of Lennox 
Thomas Tompion 
George Graham 

North Transept
William Ewart Gladstone 
William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham 
William Pitt the Younger 

South Transept

The North entrance of Westminster Abbey
Poets' Corner

Robert Adam 
Robert Browning 
William Camden 
Thomas Campbell 
Geoffrey Chaucer 
William Congreve 
Abraham Cowley 
William Davenant 
Charles Dickens 
John Dryden 
Adam Fox 
David Garrick 
John Gay 
George Frederick Handel 
Thomas Hardy 
Dr Samuel Johnson 
Rudyard Kipling 
Thomas Macaulay 
John Masefield 
Laurence Olivier, Baron Olivier 
Thomas Parr 
Richard Brinsley Sheridan 
Edmund Spenser 
Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson 

Aphra Behn 

North Choir Aisle
Henry Purcell 
Ralph Vaughan Williams 


Standard of Westminster Abbey
William Shakespeare, buried at Stratford-upon-Avon 
Sir Winston Churchill, buried at Bladon, Oxfordshire 
Sir Roland Hill (in the Chapel of St. Paul), buried in Highgate Cemetery, London 
Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield, buried at Hughenden Manor, Buckinghamshire 
Adam Lindsay Gordon, buried in Australia 
Paul Dirac, buried in Florida 
Oscar Wilde (in a stained glass window unveiled in 1995), buried in Paris [1] 
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, buried at Cambridge, Massachusetts 
Ten 20th-century Christian martyrs from across the world are depicted in statues above the Great West Door. Unveiled in 1998, these are, from left to right: 
St. Maximilian Kolbe 
Manche Masemola 
Janani Luwum 
Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russia 
Martin Luther King, Jr. 
Óscar Romero 
Dietrich Bonhoeffer 
Esther John 
Lucian Tapiedi 
Wang Zhiming 

The North entrance of Westminster Abbey

The following were buried in the abbey but later removed on the orders of Charles II:

Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector 
Admiral Robert Blake 

Westminster School and Westminster Abbey Choir School are also on the grounds of the Abbey. Westminster School was originally founded by the Benedictine monks in 1179.

The Abbey is a collegiate church organised into the College of St Peter, which comprises the Dean and four residentiary Canons (one of whom is also Rector of St Margaret's Church, Westminster, and Speaker's Chaplain), and seventeen other persons who are members ex officio, as well as twelve lay vicars and ten choristers. The seventeen are the Receiver-General and Chapter Clerk, the Registrar, the Auditor, the Legal Secretary and the Clerk of the Works (the administrative officers). Those more directly concerned with liturgical and ceremonial operations include the Precentor, the Chaplain and Sacrist, the Organist, and the (honorary) High Steward and High Bailiff. The Abbey and its property is in the care of the Librarian, the Keeper of the Muniments, and the Surveyor of the Fabric. Lastly, the educational role of the Abbey is reflected in the presence of the Headmaster of the Choir School, the Headmaster and Under Master of Westminster School, and the Master of The Queen's Scholars.

The Abbey is governed by the Dean and Chapter established under the Elizabethan statute of 1560. This consists of the Dean and the four residentiary Canons.

List of Abbots, Deans, and the Bishop of Westminster

Westminster Abbey, as seen from the west

Westminster Abbey's West Door in sunshine
Edwin 1049 – c. 1071 
Geoffrey of Jumièges c. 1071 – c. 1075 
Vitalis of Bernay c. 1076 – 1085 
Gilbert Crispin 1085 – 1117 
Herbert 1121 – c. 1136 
Gervase de Blois 1138 – c. 1157 
Laurence of Durham c. 1158 – 1173 
Walter of Winchester 1175 – 1190 
William Postard 1191 – 1200 
Ralph de Arundel (alias Papillon) 1200 – 1214 
William de Humez 1214 – 1222 
Richard de Berkying 1222 – 1246 
Richard de Crokesley 1246 – 1258 
Phillip de Lewisham 1258 
Richard de Ware 1258 – 1283 
Walter de Wenlok 1283 – 1307 
Richard de Kedyngton (alias Sudbury) 1308 – 1315 
William de Curtlyngton 1315 – 1333 
Thomas de Henley 1333 – 1344 
Simon de Bircheston 1344 – 1349 
Simon de Langham 1349 – 1362 
Nicholas de Litlyngton 1362 – 1386 
William de Colchester 1386 – 1420 
Edmund Kyrton 1440 – 1462 
George Norwich 1463 – 1469 
Thomas Millyng 1469 – 1474 
John Esteney 1474 – 1498 
George Fascet 1498 – 1500 
John Islip 1500 – 1532 
William Boston 1533 – 1540 
Thomas Thirlby 1540 – 1550 
William Benson (Abbot Boston) 1540 – 1549 
Richard Cox 1549 – 1553 
Hugh Weston 1553 – 1556 
restored by Mary I of England 
John Feckenham 1556 – 1559 
William Bill 1560 – 1561 
Gabriel Goodman 1561 – 1601 
Lancelot Andrewes 1601 – 1605 
Richard Neile 1605 – 1610 
George Montaigne 1610 – 1617 
Robert Tounson 1617 – 1620 
Ben Williams 1620 – 1644 
Richard Steward (never installed) 1644 – 1651 (Commonwealth period) 
John Earle 1660 – 1662 
John Dolben * 1662 – 1683 *For a time it was customary for the Deanery of Westminster to go along with the Bishopric of Rochester. Deans marked with an asterisk held both offices concurrently. 
Thomas Sprat * 1683 – 1713 
Francis Atterbury * 1713 – 1723 
Samuel Bradford * 1723 – 1731 
Joseph Wilcocks * 1731 – 1756 
Zachary Pearce * 1756 – 1768 
John Thomas * 1768 – 1793 
Samuel Horsley * 1793 – 1802 
William Vincent 1802 – 1815 
John Ireland 1816 – 1842 
Thomas Turton 1842 – 1845 
Samuel Wilberforce 1845 
William Buckland 1845 – 1856 
Richard Chenevix Trench 1856 – 1864 
Arthur Penrhyn Stanley 1864 – 1881 
George Granville Bradley 1881 – 1902 
Joseph Armitage Robinson 1902 – 1911 
Herbert Edward Ryle 1911 – 1925 
William Foxley Norris 1925 – 1937 
Paul de Labilliere 1938 – 1946 
Alan Don 1946 – 1959 
Eric Symes Abbott 1959 – 1974 
Edward Carpenter, KCVO 1974 – 1985 
Michael Mayne, KCVO 1986 – 1996 
(Arthur) Wesley Carr, KCVO 1997 – 2006 

The west front

The tomb of King Henry III in the Abbey. Henry was crowned king at the age of nine, reigning from 1216 to 1272.

Further reading
Simon Bradley and Nikolaus Pevsner: The Buildings of England - London 6: Westminster pp. 105–207. Yale University Press 2003. ISBN 0-300-09595-3. 

Westminster Abbey exterior.

Abbey spires.

Poet's corner.

The Lady Chapel Interior.

Westminster_Abbey_by_Canaletto C_1749

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