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Westminster Abbey

According to legend, the abbey was founded in 616, and certainly existed by 785. Refounded by Edward the Confessor* as an abbey of Benedictine monks in 1050 with extensive property, its new abbey church was consecrated in 1065. The following year Edward was buried there, his canonization in 1161 subsequently attracting large numbers of pilgrims. Adjacent to the royal palace of Westminster, it held a central place in national life, with special privileges of sanctuary, and for three centuries the House of Commons met in its chapter house. Kings were traditionally crowned here, and from 1296 the Stone of Scone, the Scottish coronation stone, was incorporated into the throne. The present building was begun in 1245 and Henry VII's chapel was completed in 1519. In 1540 the abbey was dissolved and reorganized with a dean and twelve prebendaries. Some of the monastic buildings were used for the new Westminster Grammar School. Thomas Thirlby was bishop of Westminster in 1540-50, but the see was then suppressed. The west front and towers were designed by Christopher Wren* and Nicholas Hawksmoor and completed, 1740-50. From the eighteenth century the abbey has been the burial place for numerous national celebrities.

J.P. Neale, History and Antiquities of Westminster (1818); A.P. Stanley, Historic Memorials of Westminster Abbey (1868); A. Fox, Westminster Abbey (1951).