[dropcap]F[/dropcap]or 1,000 years the 11th century abbey has been backdrop to royal weddings, coronations and funerals – something Prince William knows only too well.
He was just 15 when, in front of a vast crowd of mourners and a television audience of millions, he walked side-by-side with his father, brother, grandfather and uncle behind the coffin of his late mother Diana, Princess of Wales as it was led to the great stone columns of the abbey.
More than a decade later, exchanging his wedding vows under the abbey’s ancient grey stone arcade may go some way to banishing his sad memories of the monumental building as he begins a new life with bride Kate Middleton.
The abbey, officially known as the Collegiate Church of St Peter, Westminster, has been the coronation church since 1066 when William the Conqueror became the first royal to be crowned inside the abbey.
in June 1953 the abbey saw its first televised coronation for the crowning of Prince William’s grandmother Queen Elizabeth II and in accordance with tradition, it is also likely to be where Prince William will take the Coronation oath himself one day as king, with Miss Middleton crowned at his side as queen consort.
Benedictine monks first came to the site in the middle of the 10th century, to what was then a marshy area called “Thorny Island” on the banks of the River Thames. The church, or monetary as it was at the time, earned its link with the Crown after the support of the then King Edgar.
One century later, Edward the Confessor’s body was moved into the building after he was made a saint. His Anglo Saxon crypt still remains at the heart of the building, now resting alongside 17 more monarchs as well as notable authors and writers such as Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens. Their bodies rest in Poets’ Corner in the south transept. King George II’s funeral was held at the abbey in 1760 and more recently in 2002 the funeral of the Queen Mother took place.
The present church design, built by Henry III in 1245, is one of the most important Gothic buildings in the country with architectural influences from French cathedrals at Reims and Amiens.
The abbey is known as a royal peculiar with a dean and chapter, responsible not to a bishop or archbishop but only to the sovereign.
Many royal weddings have been held at the Abbey during the 20th century.
The Queen’s parents King George VI and the Queen Mother exchanged their vows at the abbey in April 1923 as the Duke of York and Lad
y Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon.
On their wedding day, the Queen Mother placed her wedding bouquet on the Grave of the Unknown Warrior in honour of her brother who died in the First World War; a tradition that each royal bride has since followed.
On November 20, 1947, amid the post-war austerity. The Queen was only 21 when, as Princess Elizabeth, she wed Prince Philip in the surrounds of the abbey.
Princess Margaret, the Queen’s sister, married Antony Armstrong-Jones, later Earl of Snowdon, at the church in May 1960. Their marriage was dissolved 18 years later.
The Princess Royal wed Captain Mark Phillips in November 1973 but their marriage was dissolved in April 1992. And the Duke of York walked down the Abbey’s aisle with Sarah Ferguson in July 1986 but divorced just 10 years later.