The west bank of the Thames in central London is dominated by Westminster Abbey and Westminster Palace, also known as the Houses of Parliament with the Big Ben clock tower. Westminster Abbey has been the traditional coronation church of the British monarchy since William the Conqueror. The Gothic church has the tallest nave in England and is the burial place of many personalities. Immediately next to it is the Church of Saint Margaret, the parish church of the British Parliament. The entire ensemble is of great symbolic importance in a political, religious and cultural way.
Westminster and Margaret Church: Facts
|Official title:||Westminster (Palace and Abbey) and Church of St. Margaret in London|
|Cultural monument:||St. Margaret’s, for centuries the parish church of the House of Commons; Today’s more than 150 m long and 30 m high Collegiate Church of St. Peter in Westminster, built on the orders of King Henry II and equipped with numerous plaques and monuments for famous personalities, including those for the Africa explorer David Livingstone, the Baroque composer Georg Friedrich Handel, the writer Charles Dickens and the Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill; British monarchs such as Richard II, Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I are buried; Westminster Palace with Westminster Hall, a royal residence and courthouse for 500 years and now the House of Parliament with over 1,000 rooms|
|Country:||Great Britain, England|
|Location:||City of Westminster, London|
|Meaning:||as a place of coronation of British monarchs of particular symbolic and historical importance|
Westminster and Margaret Church: History
|7th / 8th Century||Church building on the site of today’s Westminster Abbey|
|1050||Order to build a new church and monastery by Eduard the Confessor|
|12/25/1066||Coronation of William the Conqueror in the still unfinished Abbey|
|1245||Start of construction of the now existing church, Westminster Abbey|
|1540||Westminster Abbey rededicated as a cathedral|
|1556||Restoration of the old status under Maria I.|
|1649||Charles I was sentenced to death in Westminster Hall|
|19th century||radical redesign of St. Margaret’s in neo-Gothic style|
|1834||Fire in the palace area of Westminster|
|1840-76||Construction of the neo-Gothic House of Commons and the House of Lords|
|1858||Completion of the »Big Ben«|
|May 1940||severe damage to the House of Commons from German air raids|
|1953||Coronation of Elizabeth II in Westminster Abbey|
Monarchy and popular power
In November of each year, Queen Elizabeth II in full regiments is escorted to Westminster by one of her body regiments. She gives her speech from the throne in the upper house in the west wing of this former palace, which is home to the two houses of parliament. This moment cannot be surpassed in pomp and splendor: The Queen finds the high nobility gathered there, the lords in their robes, the chief judges and the bishops of England who sit in the upper house. Black Rod, a high official in black robes from the 18th century, walks through the corridor to the east wing, where the elected members of the lower house are waiting. He knocks on the locked door three times, finds entry and announces: “Your Majesty wishes to see the honorable Members immediately. «They can be informed by the Queen about the government program while standing in the overcrowded room: Queen Elisabeth reads out the text that the Prime Minister has submitted to her. She doesn’t change a word. There are moments full of symbolism: the queen represents; but all power has rested with the elected prime minister for a good 150 years.
“Democracy,” as Winston Churchill once remarked, “is the worst form of government with the exception of all those others that have been tried by mankind.” The political conditions cannot be defined more precisely. It is significant that the elected and the hereditary or life-long representatives of the two houses of parliament reside in a royal palace that has only been “made available” to them to this day. This privilege comes from a time when the monarch was still a really powerful man: British democracy gradually emerged from the constant quarrels between the king and citizens over money and power – not through a revolution like the one in France. The first roots go back to the “great deed of freedom”, the Magna Charta of 1215. It was then that King Johann Ohneland had to forego rights for the first time. But the long process was not completed until the old Westminster Palace burned down in 1834.
The new building of the palace was planned in such a way that it could accommodate the two houses of parliament. The neo-Gothic facade over the Thames with its ornaments, the high, representative halls and the winding corridors give the huge, elongated building an unexpected lightness. Two towers have their own fame: all the laws passed since 1497 are stored in the Victoria Tower in the west. The even higher, dominating east tower houses “Big Ben”, the most famous clock and the largest bell in the country. As a break mark for the BBC, her stroke has been going around the world since the Second World War.
The fact that British politics resides in the western part of London, in Westminster, and not together with the bankers and business people in the city, is again due to a monarch: Wilhelm Rufus, the second Norman king in conquered England, left in the wasteland at the end of the 11th century build a palace on the Thames because there was already an abbey there: “Westminster” (“Western Minster”) – more than any other British place of worship this became a monument to the imperial idea. It was the coronation and burial site of almost all British monarchs for nearly a millennium. Queen Elizabeth II was the first to have her coronation televised there in 1953, and when Princess Diana was killed in an accident, the British mourned in and in front of Westminster Abbey. It is one of the most beautiful high Gothic churches in Great Britain. According to constructmaterials, after the monastery was dissolved by Henry VIII in the first half of the 16th century, the building became a symbol of the British idea of rule that spanned the world. Countless tombs bear witness to this. Even the mortal enemies Queen Elizabeth I and Maria Stuart lie there peacefully united.
But the Westminster Abbey does not extend to the nearby parliament: the parish church for the Westminster Palace is the small church of St. Margaret’s next to the former monastery. The late Gothic building erected at the end of the 15th century soon developed into a popular wedding venue for the political elite: Anyone who has something to say gets married there.