Just a church in a busy traffic intersection?I used to weave through traffic to drop my daughter off for school at Little Dean's Yard in front of Westminster Abbey and in she'd trot to her medieval dining hall and Latin service in the abbey for school assembly. Then, I'd walk down halls of centuries-worn stones to grab a coffee from the lunch trolley next to the Abbey's thousand year old College Gardens, oldest in England.
Oh, that's just Prince Harry on the dance floorWhen you live in London, you can get used to occasionally seeing Colin Firth buying groceries at Sainsbury's or Kate Middleton shopping in the King's Road, just like we used to see Diana at the Harbour Club gym or collecting her sons after school at Wetherby's in Pembridge Square, Notting Hill. Yet, every once in a while, there is a moment when one stops to take in the immense historical significance of ancient structures and royal tradition all around and that is the effect of the royal wedding. Of course, that's aside from having some fun in the pub, street fairs galore throughout a four day weekend all over Britain, which is just covered in Union Jack decorations!
Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace easy procession routeFounded in the year 960, Westminster Abbey is untouchable for its sheer historic significance and certainly has very touching personal memories for Prince William and his best man, Prince Harry, as the site of their mother's funeral service when they were only 15 and 12 years old. But, Diana's fate casts a shadow over St. Paul's Cathedral as well. Not even half as old as Westminster, St. Paul's Cathedral was probably considered as a venue, but it is much further from Buckingham Palace, which is the rather unlikely party headquarters. The procession route is a perfectly logical one between the two venues, traveling slowly past hundreds of thousands of well-wishers. See a map of the route here.
A brave choice?Prince William and Catherine Middleton were rather brave and not very superstitious to have chosen Westminster Abbey for their wedding ceremony. Princess Margaret, Princess Anne and Prince Andrew had royal weddings there, but without the happy endings. However, also married there in 1947, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, who turns 90 in June, have had better luck with a 63-year marriage.
Westminster Abbey has film doubles
Millions of people watching the royal wedding of Prince William of Wales with Miss Catherine Middleton will believe they recognize the inside of Westminster Abbey from recent films. But, neither the closing scenes of "The Da Vinci Code" nor the King George VI coronation scene from "The King's Speech" were filmed inside Westminster Abbey; although that is the location called for in both scripts.
"The Da Vinci Code" production crews were denied access to Westminster Abbey when church officials objected to the story's theological premise. So, audiences actually see the eleventh-century Lincoln Cathedral, 120 miles north of London, being used as a church double for Tom Hanks' final scenes. Similarly, in the role of the stuttering monarch, Colin Firth is seen being crowned, not in Westminster Abbey, but in beautiful Ely Cathedral, located 70 miles from London.
The real Westminster Abbey
The last time large audiences saw inside Westminster Abbey was on September 6, 1997, when both the BBC and ITN television in London were hastily given permission to film and broadcast during the funeral service for Diana, Princess of Wales. Now over 13 years later, the famous abbey is seen by millions once again in all its glory for Diana's son on his wedding day.
The bride carries a spring of myrtle in her wedding bouquet taken from the tree that still grows in Queen Victoria's personal gardens in the Isle of Wight. In a surprise tribute to her fallen brother, as a bride in 1923, Elizabeth laid her bridal bouquet on the World War I tomb on her way to the altar. Making the same tribute is now a royal wedding tradition, although on her way back from the altar is the modern interpretation. How they stop someone from snatching up the bouquet it is certainly beyond me!
Once the young royals are off on honeymoon, return to quiet Wales and the church is back to normal, visitors can go inside Westminster Abbey to see the Grave of the Unknown Warrior, take a seat to soak up the atmosphere of this place which saw 37 British coronations, holds the relics of Edward the Confessor from 1066, the tombs of Henry III, Mary Queen of Scots among eighteen British monarchs, the graves of Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin, Geoffrey Chaucer, Samuel Johnson, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and the many famous literary greats with their final resting place in Poet's Corner.
When you make your visit...a tip
There are regular services in the church on Sundays for worship and Westminster Abbey is open to the public for general admission Monday through Saturday.
A tip: ask for a peak at College Gardens past Cloisters and visit Westminster Abbey Museum in the 11th century vaulted undercroft of St. Peter...relatively few people do and these are both wonderful.