Westminster Abbey: Sacred Places and Sacred Spaces

Today’s visit to Westminster Abbey provided a unique experience that added significance to many periods and areas of British history. Westminster Abbey was consecrated in 1065 by Edward I (Edward the Confessor) and is still in use today for daily services, visitors, and royal services.  Though the architecture dates through the 16th century, the gothic style remains consistent, even in the restored portions of the chapels. Edward’s enlargement of the church (though it was a monastery at the time) sought to set it apart from St Paul’s Cathedral. Edward’s original building survives in the arches following Henry III’s rebuilding of the church in a new Gothic style.

The greatest significance for my study of the later medieval period includes tombs, catacombs, and various other stylistic features found in the chapels. In one chapel, I examined its misericords, the small ledges that project from the understudy of hinged seats in stalls that allow for seating. The left side of the chapel contained examples thought to be of a more appropriate nature, while the right side began to show an increased variety of images that included unusual beasts, knights in battle, and a domestic scene that showed a depicted a wife beating her husband.

The tombs of Edward III, Richard II, and Geoffrey Chaucer provide connections to a period of British history that included the 100 Years war, The Black Death, the Peasants Revolt of 1381, and The Canterbury Tales. Though Edward III transformed England into a great military power, the 100 Years war put a great strain on the economy and included poll taxes on the poor. Following the Black Death in 1348, England’s population had decreased by nearly 40 percent. These events remind us that England had long been familiar with social uprisings related to pressure by the government on the lower class. Edward III’s Statute of Laborers limited the wages of the poor after the Black Death and prohibited their movement in search of higher wages. After Edward died of a stroke in 1377, his ten-year-old grandson, Richard II took the throne. Richard’s reign did little to improve conditions for the peasantry since John of Gaunt’s influence was great. Discontent and no change in social conditions led to The Peasants Revolt of 1381, many deaths, and destruction. Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales illustrate an important element of estates satire and remain a significant part of the British cannon.

Below, I include photos of Westminster Abbey and the tombs of Edward III, Richard II, and Geoffrey Chaucer.


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