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World Heritage Site

for World Heritage Travellers

Blog: Westminster Abbey

Westminster is the second most visited WHS according to the statistics of this website. So far 12 of those visitors have written a review about it. Some zoomed in on Westminster Palace and praised the guided tour of the Houses of Parliament, others focused on Westminster Abbey or the site's third component St. Margaret’s Church. Last week during my day trip to London I took a closer look at Westminster Abbey.

Familiar view

“Huge Crowds” and “Ridiculous charge” are two common denominators to describe the first impression of a visit to the Abbey. I also smiled about the “Not allowed to sketch” comment from a previous reviewer. Photography is forbidden, and apparently even sketching is (would taking notes be also?). The reasoning behind the ban is stated on the Abbey’s website: “We believe that the unique beauty and history of the Abbey are difficult to enjoy with the distractions which widespread photography would bring; and that photography would diminish the sacred and intimate atmosphere of a building which is, first and foremost, a living, working church.”

From our reviews we can also see the admission fee rise over the years: 6 pounds in 2011, 18 in 2015. It is 20 pounds now (December 2016). That’s a staggering amount for a church, especially in the light of the common opinion that one shouldn’t have to pay for entrance to a place of worship. And as we have just learned from the photography ban: this “.. is, first and foremost, a living, working church”. This reeks of applying double standards; the real reason probably is the enormous cost for the upkeep. No visitor would object to a contribution to that I believe, although it would be fair to share costs with the Anglican Church, the Royal Family and the English Government. Why would only tourists have to pay for it all?

Faith or Money?

My visit started with queuing some 20 minutes in one of the two lines that lead up from the sides to the North Entrance. Upon entering I was spoken to by one of the vergers. After enquiring where I came from (she did not ask whether I came to worship by the way), this friendly elderly lady said she was sorry that no audio tours in Dutch were available. So I settled for one in English. It’s good that one is provided within the entrance fee, though I wasn’t really impressed by its explanations. It does not go much beyond “This is a church where many famous persons are buried and hey, there’s a throne used for coronations too”. My suggestion for improvement would be to be able to select stories from different angles, so as to learn more about the architectural history of the church or Anglicanism (as this will be the only Anglican church most foreign visitors will visit during their whole life).

Northern Entrance decoration

My lasting impression of Westminster Abbey is that of a monumental graveyard, confined within the limited spaces of a Gothic building. Besides the numerous UK royals and politicians, also scientists such as Newton and Darwin are buried here. It almost feels like sacrilege to step on their graves.

Published 10 December 2016

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