The Architect & Construction of Westminster Abbey

Instructor: Shenley Schenk

Shenley holds a Master's of Science in Interior Architecture as well as a LEED Green Associate Certification.

Westminster Abbey was built for royal celebration and worship. Imagine the intricate architecture and learn about the individuals that influenced the design.

Westminster Abbey Basics

The magnificent Westminster Abbey stands in the City of Westminster, London. It remains a center for regular worship and lavish celebration, as coronations and royal weddings have taken life in the Westminster Abbey for centuries. British history and architecture shape the character and features of the Abbey, and the vision of multiple architects and royals can lay claim to its beauty. Explore the extravagant architecture and the individuals who formed the Westminster Abbey in this lesson.

Westminster Abbey Exterior
Exterior Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey Components

Westminster Abbey is a model of religious structures influenced by British and Gothic design. The Abbey is comprised of uniquely designed and constructed architecture while maintaining traditional space and building layouts. The transept of the Abbey projects at a right angle from the nave, forming the arms of the cross-shaped church. The nave is the center part of the church used for common meetings and royal events.

In the chapel, a small building attached to the Abbey, private celebrations, funeral, or worship is held. The horizontal span of the Abbey is grand, therefore towers give the Abbey vertical dimension. The choir separates the leaders from the congregation, allowing definition in hierarchy. Meetings of royals and church leadership take place in the chapter house, a building separate from the Abbey. Two covered walks, or cloisters, were made for aesthetics and easy transportation between the ground buildings.

Royal and Architect Influence

Westminster Abbey began as a vision of St. Edward. It started as a small Benedictine monastery and rapidly transformed into a larger stone church, known as Westminster. Round arches and supporting columns of the undercroft are the only remnants of St. Edward's time. An undercroft is beneath the church and used for burials or worship.

King Henry III took over Westminster Abbey and commissioned Italian sculptor Pietro Torrigiano to begin concept designs for Lady Chapel. Included in the design was a magnificent fan-vaulted roof and glowing stain glass windows. King Henry III implemented his mark on the western towers by commissioning Nicholas Hawksmoor to construct medieval stain glass windows.

Cherishing the design for Lady Chapel, King Henry VI began to lay the stone foundation for the chapel, however, finances ceased and construction was halted.

Westminster Abbey stood still for almost a century until cathedrals were transformed with English influence and Gothic style architecture. Magnificent structures were built to hold worship ceremonies and graves of monarchs. Master masons Henry of Reyns, John of Gloucester, and Robert of Beverley were commissioned to bring life to the Westminster Abbey. Over 600 monuments and wall tablets lined the walls of the structures. The brilliant design architectural structures such as apse with chapels, pointed arches, ribbed vaulting, and flying buttresses. The Abbey's geometrical proportion allowed for double aisles lined with marble columns and sculptures. Special detail and interest are seen in the stonework, paintings, and colorful glass.

Tombs of Westminster Abbey
Tombs of Westminster Abbey

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