Westminster Abbey – A splendid mixture of Architectural Styles

“Architecture has framed time” – Westminster Abbey in London is one of the finest examples of this. It is an essence crystallized into a traditional form by humans. The architectural journey of Westminster Abbey is eerie yet significant in all aspects. This magnificent structure underwent layers of construction before becoming the wonder that it is today. Westminster Abbey architecture is a fusion of Gothic style with traces of early medieval period-style. It is responsible for fabricating a history that can be experienced even today.

Westminster Abbey (Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash)

This architectural masterpiece is a place of daily worship, a burial place of kings, statesmen, poets, scientists, warriors, and musicians. It has seen numerous royal occasions and coronations. This Abbey has embraced all good as well as sad memories within its strong walls. This provides us with the privilege of experiencing and breathing earlier times and occasions with its breath-taking architecture.

Stages of Westminster Abbey’s Architectural Voyage

  • The foundation of Westminster Abbey London was in the form of a small Benedictine monastery borne under the patronage of King Edgar and St. Dunstain in 906AD. Later, in the 1040s King Edward chose to re-establish the monastery into a large stone church. It was in honor of St Peter the Apostle, the church was sanctified in 1065 with the name “Westminster”.
  • For about two centuries, King Edward’s Abbey stayed strong. In 1245, Westminster Abbey was rebuilt with a new gothic style of architecture. King Henry III with the help of three masons, Henry of Reyn, John of Glouster, and Robert of Beverly commissioned the same.
  • With the death of King Henry III, the construction of Abbey was left unfinished. The unfinished construction of the Abbey was completed after a whole century. The construction underwent the leadership of Abbot Nicholas Litlyngton, sustaining the previous style of Westminster Abbey architecture.
  • After this, there was one more profound addition to the structure – the new Lady Chapel of Henry VI, between 1509 and 1579.
  • Finally, the most recent and no wonder, the most significant addition to the Abbey since 1745, is the “West Tower”, designed by Ptolemy Dean Architects. The tower is a modern take on the gothic architecture described as “sci-fi gothic” by Guardian critic Olly Wainwright.

Truly, Westminster Abbey London has managed to embrace all the shades of architecture beautifully.

The essence of Westminster Abbey

  • Experience, aesthetics, and culture, the amalgamation of all three reflecting in the architecture, forms the essence of the Abbey.
  • Every space of the Abbey speaks a different story which shapes into a beautiful book worth reading. In the architecture of all the spaces, there is harmony due to symmetry that Architects have tried to follow to a larger extent. In terms of planning as well as with the geometrical proportion incorporated while fabricating the entire structure, symmetry shines.
  • The traces of round arches and massive support columns from the medieval period blend beautifully with Gothic revival style such as pointed arches, ribbed vaulting, rose windows, and flying buttresses.
Photo by David Jakab from Pexels

Architectural Features of Westminster Abbey 

  • The architectural layout comprises the transept at a right angle, forming the nave i.e. the central part of the church. Royal meetings and events are amongst its main uses. Even though the decoration of the nave is not lavish as compared to other spaces, it is a feast for eyes. Flying buttresses on the exterior take the thrust of the walls, enabling the roof to reach a height of 101 Feet.
  • Also, the structure gains attention due to the chapel, space where private celebrations, funerals, or worships are held. The outstanding fan-vaulted roof with its carved pendants enhances the grandeur of the space. Certainly, it makes us wonder about the boldness of Architects, in terms of creativity in the times before.
  • Every space inside the structure is full of elements of surprise. Some spaces make a lot of noise with their ornamentation, sculptures, arches, and roof. However, some spaces offer the most tranquil settings like the cloister of the Abbey.
  • The cloister is one of the busiest, yet one of the most serene parts of the Abbey. Meditation, exercising, and reading are amongst its major uses. However, the 100 feet long cloister lined with arches along with the stone flooring and open window ingrain the peaceful feeling, not only within the space but also within people using the space.
  • Built to provide access to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries, the latest addition to Abbey is the West Tower. It is a star-shaped steel-frame tower, the only steel-frame structure of the Abbey.
  • The West Tower tower makes us travel straight from the old medieval-gothic period to the new modern gothic world where steel and wood play an important role. This modern tower adds novelty to the Abbey helping the old aged structure experience the world of modern architecture.
Intricate Workmanship on Cathedral Ceiling (Image by Siggy Nowak from Pixabay)

“Architecture of Westminster Abbey truly challenges our concept of reality concerning time.”

The Abbey with 600 monuments and wall tables, over 3,300 burials, walls alive with sculptures and paintings, huge columns and arches depicting almost every period of Gothic Architecture with elegance and grace masters the art of architecture in all manner.

Although, standing alone in some spaces of this Abbey may be fearsome and some alluring, architecture of Westminster Abbey successfully carves out the emotions of each space to the people visiting the Abbey.

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