Westminster Abbey Coronations

By Harshitha Jagathiesh

Nestled in the city’s heart, this magnificent abbey has witnessed the anointing and crowning of British monarchs for centuries. 

This article aims to take you on a captivating journey, unraveling the stories and rituals surrounding these momentous occasions. 

From the regal splendor to the intricate ritualistic details, join us as we delve into the rich history and captivating tales of Westminster Abbey.

History of Coronations

The history of coronations at Westminster Abbey is deeply intertwined with the monarchy of the United Kingdom. 

Initially founded in the 10th century, the abbey has served as the traditional site for crowning English and later British monarchs.

The first coronation at the abbey was William the Conqueror in 1066.

Throughout the history of Westminster Abbey, these coronations have witnessed numerous significant moments. 

Notable examples include the coronations of Queen Elizabeth I in 1559, King James II in 1685, and Queen Victoria in 1838. 

Each coronation reflects the prevailing customs and cultural influences of the time while adhering to enduring traditions. 

Westminster Abbey’s grand architecture and historical significance provide a fitting backdrop for these royal ceremonies. 

Its iconic features, such as the Cosmati pavement and the Coronation Chair, add to the awe and reverence associated with the coronation proceedings.

Coronations explained

The coronation ritual at Westminster Abbey in London is a meticulously planned and highly symbolic ceremony that marks the ascension of a British monarch to the throne. 

While specific details may vary depending on the era and the individual monarch, certain elements have remained constant throughout history.

The coronation typically occurs at the high altar of Westminster Abbey, with the reigning monarch seated in the Coronation Chair. 

This ancient oak chair, dating back to the 14th century, is an integral part of the ceremony.

The ceremony begins with a procession of the clergy, nobility, and dignitaries, followed by the monarch’s entrance. 

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the most senior clergy member in the Church of England, presides over the ceremony and conducts the anointing.

One of the most sacred moments of the coronation is the anointing of the monarch. 

The Archbishop of Canterbury uses holy oil to anoint the monarch on the hands, head, and chest, symbolizing their reign’s divine blessing and consecration. 

Prayers and the recitation of biblical verses accompany this act.

Following the anointing, the monarch is presented with various regalia, each representing a different aspect of their role and authority. 

These regalia include: 

  • the sovereign’s orb, symbolizing their rule over the earthly realm
  • the scepter, symbolizing their power and authority, 
  • the crown, the ultimate symbol of monarchy

Once the monarch is crowned, the congregation offers their acclamation, proclaiming, “God save the King/Queen,” showing loyalty and support. 

The ceremony concludes with the recessional procession as the newly crowned monarch exits the abbey to the jubilant cheers of the crowd.

The coronation ritual at Westminster Abbey is a solemn and grand affair steeped in tradition, religious symbolism, and pageantry. 

It is a powerful symbol of continuity, legitimacy, and the sacred bond between the monarch and the people of the United Kingdom.

Coronation objects and spaces

Westminster Abbey in London houses various objects and spaces of great significance related to coronations. 

Here are some notable examples:

Coronation Chair

The Coronation Chair, also known as King Edward’s Chair, is a renowned symbol of the coronation ceremonies. 

Dating back to 1300, it is the throne upon which British monarchs are seated during their coronation. 

The chair contains the ancient Stone of Scone, traditionally associated with the coronation of Scottish kings.

High Altar

The High Altar of Westminster Abbey is the focal point of the coronation ceremonies.

It is where the monarch is anointed with holy oil during the sacred ritual. 

The altar itself is an exquisite piece of craftsmanship adorned with intricate carvings and decorative elements.

Cosmati Pavement

Located in the Sanctuary, the Cosmati Pavement is a stunning mosaic floor dating back to the 13th century. 

It serves as a symbolic pathway for the monarch during the coronation ceremony. 

The intricate patterns and designs of the pavement add to the visual splendor of the occasion.

St. Edward’s Chapel

Situated within Westminster Abbey, St. Edward’s Chapel is dedicated to St. Edward the Confessor, the Anglo-Saxon king who established the abbey. 

This chapel is where the monarch processes to be anointed. 

This chapel is where the coronation regalia is traditionally displayed before the ceremony.

Shrine of St. Edward the Confessor

The shrine of St. Edward the Confessor is a highly revered site within Westminster Abbey. 

It contains the saint’s tomb and is considered a sacred space during coronations. 

Monarchs traditionally pay homage to St. Edward before their own coronation.

Royal Chapels

Westminster Abbey houses several chapels that have played a role in coronations.

They include the Chapel of St. Edmund, the Chapel of St. Nicholas, and the Chapel of Henry VII. 

These chapels often serve as venues for religious services and processions associated with coronations.

FAQs

1. Who has been crowned at Westminster Abbey?

Here are several notable names from that illustrious list:
– William the Conqueror (1066)
-Queen Elizabeth I (1559)
– King James II (1685)
– Queen Victoria (1838)
– King George VI (1937)
– Queen Elizabeth II (1953)
– King Charles III (2023)

2. How many coronations have happened in Westminster Abbey?

A total of 38 coronations have taken place at Westminster Abbey.

3. Who gets invited to a coronation?

A coronation is a highly significant and prestigious event.
The guest list is carefully curated to include individuals with critical positions or close relationships with the monarch. 
Here are some of the critical categories of individuals who typically receive invitations to a coronation:
– Royal Family
– Dignitaries and Heads of State
– Government Officials
– Nobility and Peerage
– Church Officials
– Military and Civic Leaders

4. How long will Westminster Abbey be closed for the coronation?

The closure duration for Westminster Abbey during a coronation can vary depending on the specific arrangements and preparations involved. 

However, historically, the closure period has typically ranged from a few days to a couple of weeks.

5. What time is the coronation service at Westminster Abbey?

The specific time of the coronation service at Westminster Abbey is not fixed and can vary depending on the arrangements made for each individual coronation.

6. What happens at a coronation?

At a coronation, a solemn and symbolic ceremony marks a monarch’s ascension to the throne. 

The event typically occurs at a designated venue, such as Westminster Abbey in London. 

It includes the anointing of the monarch with holy oil, the presentation of regalia like the crown and scepter, and the religious officials reciting prayers and blessings. 

The coronation signifies the monarch’s divine right, their authority investiture, and the formal acknowledgment of their reign.


Are you looking for the best tickets to explore Westminster Abbey?

Here are some of the best tickets for visiting Westminster Abbey and London. 

Entry ticket: Get the opportunity to tour around the cathedral, bell tower, tombs and more with the Westminster Abbey entry ticket.

Guided tour: Tour the famous Westminster Abbey with an expert guide and gain insights about the famous attraction

St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey: Enjoy St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey with one ticket.

Westminster Abbey and Afternoon Tea: Tour the Cathedral and visit the Cellarium Cafe for an English afternoon tea. 

Westminster Abbey and House of Parliament guided tour: Get a tour of the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. 

London Pass: Enjoy access to over 85 attractions, including Westminster Abbey, with just one pass. 

Go City London explorer pass: Visit Westminster Abbey along with 1 to 6 other attractions with this pass. 

Featured Image: Westminster-abbey.org

Harshita
About the author

Harshitha’s heart lies where greeny mountains meet stretches of beach. She believes getting lost is the best way to explore