Westminster Abbey is an iconic structure with a history that stretches back over a thousand years. As the coronation church since 1066 and the final resting place of 17 monarchs, it holds a unique position in the cultural heritage of the United Kingdom. Here we explore the lives of ten of the most prominent people buried in this magnificent building, along with details of their deaths and funeral ceremonies.
1. Isaac Newton (1642-1727)
Isaac Newton, one of the most influential scientists in history, was buried at Westminster Abbey on March 28, 1727. He passed away in his sleep on March 20th of the same year. A large funeral ceremony was conducted, attended by many dignitaries and scholars. Newton’s monument at the Abbey is adorned with a sculpture of him leaning on several of his great works, signifying his massive contributions to physics and mathematics.
2. Charles Darwin (1809-1882)
Charles Darwin, the father of evolutionary theory, was buried at Westminster Abbey on April 26, 1882. He died of heart failure on April 19, 1882. His burial was attended by various distinguished scientists and scholars. The decision to bury Darwin in the Abbey was controversial at the time due to his groundbreaking theories on evolution, but his contributions to science were undeniable.
3. Elizabeth I (1533-1603)
Queen Elizabeth I, the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, died on March 24, 1603, and was buried in Westminster Abbey on April 28, 1603. Known as the “Virgin Queen,” her reign marked a golden age for England. Her funeral was a lavish affair, attended by the nobility and foreign dignitaries. Elizabeth was buried in a tomb shared with her half-sister, Mary I.
4. George Frederic Handel (1685-1759)
George Frederic Handel, the renowned composer, was buried in Westminster Abbey on April 20, 1759. He died on April 14, 1759, and his funeral was attended by more than 3,000 people. Handel’s music continues to be performed worldwide, and his memorial in the Abbey features a statue holding a musical score.
5. David Livingstone (1813-1873)
David Livingstone, the famous explorer and missionary, was buried in Westminster Abbey on April 18, 1874. He died from malaria and dysentery on May 1, 1873, in present-day Zambia. His heart was buried in Africa, but his body was transported back to England. The funeral was a significant event, highlighting Livingstone’s contributions to African exploration and British imperialism.
6. Charles Dickens (1812-1870)
Charles Dickens, the great novelist and social critic, was buried in Westminster Abbey on June 14, 1870. He died of a stroke on June 9, 1870. Despite his wish to be buried quietly, he was laid to rest in the Abbey’s Poets’ Corner, acknowledging his literary greatness. The funeral was attended by family and close friends.
7. Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)
Rudyard Kipling, the author of “The Jungle Book,” was buried in Westminster Abbey on January 23, 1936. He died of a perforated duodenal ulcer on January 18, 1936. His funeral was a private affair, attended by close family. Kipling’s works continue to be cherished, and his grave is a testament to his lasting literary legacy.
8. Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)
Sir Winston Churchill, Britain’s Prime Minister during World War II, actually lies in a family plot in Oxfordshire, but a memorial stone was laid in Westminster Abbey. He died on January 24, 1965, and his state funeral was held on January 30, 1965. The ceremony was one of the largest gatherings of world statesmen in history. His leadership and oratory continue to be celebrated.
9. Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400)
Geoffrey Chaucer, the “Father of English Literature,” was buried in Westminster Abbey in 1400. He died on October 25, 1400. His tomb in Poets’ Corner began the tradition of burying poets and writers in that part of the Abbey. His works, especially “The Canterbury Tales,” remain staples in English literature.
10. Henry Purcell (1659-1695)
Henry Purcell, one of Britain’s greatest composers, was buried next to the organ in Westminster Abbey on November 26, 1695. He died on November 21, 1695, possibly of tuberculosis. His funeral was attended by fellow musicians and composers. Purcell’s music continues to be performed, and his influence on Baroque music is profound.
Other Prominent People Buried at Westminster Abbey
|Name||Date of Birth||Date of Burial|
|Mary Queen of Scots||1542||1612|
|Sir Laurence Olivier||1907||1989|
|Alfred, Lord Tennyson||1809||1892|
|Thomas Hardy (Heart only)||1840||1928|
|Sir Edward Elgar||1857||1934|
|Ben Jonson (buried upright)||1572||1637|
What’s the significance of being buried at Westminster Abbey?
“Westminster Abbey in London is a super important and old church. Think of it like a hall of fame for England. If you get buried there, it’s a big deal. Why?
- Royals: Almost every king or queen since 1066 got their crown there. Many are buried there too.
- Famous People: Loads of big names from history are buried there – from leaders to artists.
- Writers: There’s a special spot called “Poets’ Corner” where famous writers like Charles Dickens and Geoffrey Chaucer are remembered.
- Religion: It’s a major church, so many top religious folks are buried there.
- Big Events: The Abbey hosts huge national events like royal weddings.
- Space: There’s not much room left, so getting a spot there nowadays is super rare.
So, if someone’s buried or remembered at Westminster Abbey, it means they did something really big for England!”
Detailed Physical Description of Westminster Abbey
1. The Towers and Main Entrance:
Westminster Abbey’s exterior is dominated by two tall and ornate Gothic towers at the western facade. Constructed between 1722 and 1745, these towers rise to a height of 225 feet (68 meters). The main entrance is located between these towers, showcasing intricate stone carvings and statues of modern martyrs.
2. The Nave:
The nave’s exterior is adorned with delicate flying buttresses that support the structure, an iconic feature of Gothic architecture. These buttresses are connected to the exterior walls, giving the Abbey a majestic and elongated appearance.
The Abbey features two transepts, North and South, extending perpendicularly to the nave. These are characterized by large ornate windows, filled with intricate stained glass.
1. The Nave:
The nave is the central approach to the high altar and is the longest in England, measuring 515 feet (157 meters). It features a vaulted ceiling with a height of 102 feet (31 meters), adorned with intricate patterns and carvings.
2. The Transepts:
The North and South Transepts are grand halls crossing the nave. They feature splendid rose windows and house various chapels and monuments.
3. The Quire:
Located east of the nave, the Quire is where the Abbey’s choir sits. It is an area rich in wooden carvings, including the magnificent medieval choir stalls, adorned with detailed misericords.
4. The High Altar:
The High Altar is the spiritual focal point of the Abbey, containing a marble table that is still used for religious services. Behind the altar, the reredos (a decorative screen) displays intricate carvings and statues of saints.
5. Poets’ Corner:
This famous section of the South Transept houses the tombs and memorials of numerous writers and poets, including Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Dickens, and many others.
6. The Lady Chapel:
Also known as Henry VII’s Chapel, this breathtaking structure lies east of the main Abbey church. It showcases a spectacular fan-vaulted ceiling, ornate tombs, and delicate carvings.
7. Royal Tombs and Chapels:
Various chapels surround the central structure, housing the tombs of many monarchs and famous personalities. The tombs are often adorned with effigies, carved with incredible detail.
8. Stained Glass Windows:
Westminster Abbey’s windows are a treasure trove of stained glass artistry. From the medieval narrative in the Chapter House window to the abstract design in the Lady Chapel, they add color and life to the stony interior.
Grounds and Surroundings
The Abbey is surrounded by green lawns and gardens, providing a peaceful contrast to the bustling city. The Cloisters connect various parts of the Abbey and provide a serene space for contemplation.
A Guide to Touring Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey is not just a repository of history; it is a living monument that continues to host royal ceremonies and daily worship. If you plan to visit, guided tours are available that provide insights into the Abbey’s rich history and architectural grandeur. Don’t miss the chance to see the tombs of the famous people buried there, as well as the breathtaking Gothic architecture, the Coronation Chair, and the beautiful stained glass windows. Audio guides are available in various languages, and the Abbey’s staff is well-trained to answer any questions you may have. Whether you’re a history buff or simply appreciating the art and culture, a tour of Westminster Abbey is a must-see in London.
Westminster Abbey continues to be a symbol of British history, culture, and spirituality. The stories of the people buried there provide a fascinating glimpse into different eras and the characters who shaped them. Whether for a religious pilgrimage or a cultural exploration, a visit to Westminster Abbey is a richly rewarding experience.