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Westminster Abbey (Collegiate Church of St Peter, Parliament Square) - part two
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Westminster Abbey (Collegiate Church of St Peter, Parliament Square) - part two


The foundation stone of King Henry Ill's church was laid in 1245. By the time of the king's death in 1272, the east end had been completed, but only a part of the nave. The king's architect was Henry of Reyns, who referred to Reims Cathedral as a model. The interior of Westminster Abbey is markedly tall, on the French model; on the other hand, some of the details of its construction (such as the use of a ridge-rib in the east part) are English. It was not until the 14th century that the west part of the nave was built. Henry Yevele was the architect and remarkably he chose to follow the style of the earlier work, except in the west front, which he made Perpendicular. The interior therefore appears to date from one building campaign. The plan is cruciform, with aisled transepts, and a polygonal east end that allowed for five chapels to lead out of the ambulatory. The shrine was intended to be the focus, but the other determinant of the plan was the need to provide a large central space for coronations.



Westminster Abbey (Collegiate Church of St Peter, Parliament Square) - part two

Henry Vll's chapel, seen from the east.


A screen was put up behind the high altar in 1440-1 by John Thirsk. He was also responsible for King Henry V's chantry chapel in 1437. It is possible that the former was needed to screen off activity in the latter. The back of the new screen was carved with scenes from the life of St Edward, as a mark of honour for his shrine.
Nevertheless, the shrine ceased to be visible from the west. The final major structural change was the building of King Henry Vll's chapel at the east end, in place of the Lady chapel, in 1503-12. Robert Janyns is most plausibly credited with the chapel's design, which is a four-bay aisled work, with five radiating east chapels (as in Henry Ill's east end). The most striking feature is the exterior, in which secular elements stand out. The bay window and the turreted (and panelled) polygonal buttress are the chief features, but packed in a notably complicated pattern that leaves a continuously wavy outline. Since 1725, Henry Vll's chapel has been the chapel of the Order of the Bath, whose banners add to its colour considerably.

Westminster Abbey (Collegiate Church of St Peter, Parliament Square) - part two

Edward Blore designed the choir-stalls of 1844-8, which occupy the east end of the nave and part of the crossing.


Westminster Abbey (Collegiate Church of St Peter, Parliament Square) - part two

The shrine of St Edward the Confessor has been the focus of the abbey since he was canonized in 1161.


The shrine of St Edward preserves most of its base, whose main purpose was to provide three niches on each side in which pilgrims could kneel. The base was dismantled in 1536 and when it was pieced together again 20 years later, various parts were placed upside-down or back to front. The Confessor's remains lie above. What has never been reinstated is the reliquary chest that surmounted the structure. Around the Confessor lie several mediaeval kings and their consorts. The first was King Henry III, whose monument is north of the shrine. The base was once inlaid with Cosmati mosaic work on both sides; the side to the aisle preserves it. His fine bronze effigy was made by William Torel in 1291, at the same time as he made the effigy of Eleanor of Castile (died 1290), the wife of King Edward I. Her tomb is surrounded by Thomas of Leighton's iron grille of 1294, which includes candle-holders. The final tomb on the north side is King Edward I's. It consists of a plain tomb-chest without an effigy. His grandson, King Edward III (died 1377), has an effigy of gilded bronze, probably by John Orchard, which rests on a base attributed to Henry Yevele. The six weepers on the aisle side are the king's children, including the Black Prince. The next monument is King Edward's consort, Philippa of Hainault, who has a black and white marble effigy by Jean de Liege. Finally, there is the monument to King Richard II and Anne of Bohemia. The broom plant (the planta genista, from which the name 'Plantagenet' was derived) and the chained hart appear as decorations on their clothing. In Henry Vll's chapel, the effigies of its founder and his wife by Pietro Torrigiano are particularly fine works. The same sculptor was also responsible for the effigy of the King's mother, Margaret, Countess of Richmond, in the south aisle.


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