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"Westminster Abbey" Sightseeing Tip by iandsmith

Sightseeing, London: 408 reviews and 424 photos

  Surrepticious stained glass
by iandsmith
  • Surrepticious stained glass - London
      Surrepticious stained glass
    by iandsmith
  • No pixies here, just Pyxes - London
      No pixies here, just Pyxes
    by iandsmith

Favorite thing: It's one of the world's great icons. The queues are constant. They've come to see history mainly though I suspect many don't see it as that. Rather they've come to see what all the fuss is about. Names on memorials roll off the tongue; Newton, Darwin, Marlowe, Wilde, Handel, Kipling, Austen. Oh, and did I mention Chaucer, Shakespeare, Bronte (as in sisters). If they don't satisfy then there's a notable smattering of your royals including a few Henrys, Elizabeth I, Edward the I and the confessor and we shouldn't forget the much-pursued Mary, Queen of Scots, who seems to have spent some of her time imprisoned in every second castle in Great Britain.
In fact, though I find it hard to believe, in a recent documentary on the idiot box, it was clearly stated that over 3,300 persons are buried here. Now, clearly they were not all notable and many go back beyond when the church attained its current shape but it's still an impressive figure.

Fondest memory: Photography and filming is not allowed whilst in the Abbey so you can hazard a guess where these shots might have come from. The first is one of the stained glass windows in the Chapter House, a mixture of late 19th and mid 20th century glass, much having been destroyed during the war. Clayton and Bell re-glazed the Chapter House in 1882 and in 1951 panels which survived the war were incorporated into a scheme drawn up by Joan Howson. The window over the entrance, showing sovereigns of England, was undamaged. Panels depict scenes from the history of England and the Abbey, with individual figures and coats of arms of kings, abbots, churchmen and benefactors to the Abbey.
The second shot is the Pyx Chamber. This low vaulted room off the East Cloister is part of the Undercroft that was built about 1070 but was walled off from the rest of the room sometime in the 12th century. The chamber was probably made into a treasury in the 13th century and may have been used as a sacristy when Henry III was rebuilding the main Abbey. This would explain the presence of the altar, recently dedicated to St Dunstan. The medieval tiled floor has designs similar to those on the much finer floor in the Chapter House, and show mainly heraldic subjects. In the time of Edward I this Chamber and the crypt of the Chapter House were assigned to the “Royal Wardrobe”, a department of State. In 1303, when the King was away in Scotland, the Wardrobe treasury was burgled and money and plate stolen.
The chamber was best known as the home of the wooden boxes, called Pyxes, where a sample of the coinage of the realm was kept to await the “Trial of the Pyx”. This was a public demonstration to show that the coinage was pure and samples of coins were “tried” by being melted down and the silver content measured. The Trial itself was never held in the Chamber but in the Palace of Westminster. It still takes place today in Goldsmiths’ Hall in the City of London.

Review Helpfulness: 3.5 out of 5 stars

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  • Updated Feb 5, 2006
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