Westminster Abbey: From Diana's funeral to William's wedding

23rd November 2010, Comments 0 comments

Westminster Abbey, where Prince William will marry Kate Middleton in April next year, has long been associated with Britain's royals and the funeral of his mother Princess Diana took place there.

Construction began on the imposing gothic church near the Houses of Parliament in central London in 1245 under the orders of King Henry III, but a church has been on the site for more than 1,000 years.

William I was the first king to be crowned there in 1066 and the tradition continues to this day, with Queen Elizabeth II -- Prince William's grandmother -- the most recent monarch to take her seat in the coronation chair in 1953.

The Abbey's history has a personal resonance with the 28-year-old prince, as it was there that he walked as a teenager behind the coffin of his mother in 1997, following her death in a Paris car crash.

In choosing the church for his wedding, the prince rejected St Paul's Cathedral where his mother and father, Prince Charles, married in a fairytale wedding in 1981.

But he follows in the footsteps of many other royal couples, including the queen, who married Philip Mountbatten in 1947, and her parents, Prince Albert -- later George VI -- and Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, who wed in 1923.

The most recent marriages in the Abbey have not ended in success. The queen's sister, Princess Margaret, and her children Princess Anne and Prince Andrew all had their weddings there but subsequently all got divorced.

The abbey -- or to give it its full name, the Collegiate Church of St Peter, Westminster -- is a 'royal peculiar' which means it is exempt from any ecclesiastical jurisdiction other than that of the monarch.

Despite its royal connections, the Abbey is still a working church and holds regular services open to the public.

It also plays host to memorials to many leading British figures, including author Jane Austen, who has a plaque in her memory, and Charles Darwin, the father of evolutionary theory, who is commemorated by a bust.

There is a memorial stone to wartime premier Winston Churchill inside the west entrance, near the grave of the unknown soldier, whose body was brought from France during World War II and represents all Britain's fallen troops.

The church also remembers historical figures from abroad, including Martin Luther King, a statue of whom stands in the west entrance.

© 2010 AFP

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