Westminster Abbey

Overview

Read the Bldg Blog interview with Mary Beard about the Wonders of the World series
(Part I and Part II)

Westminster Abbey is the most complex church in existence. National cathedral, coronation church, royal mausoleum, burial place of poets, resting place of the great and of the Unknown Warrior, former home of parliament, backdrop to the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales--this rich and extraordinary building...

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WESTMINSTER ABBEY

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Overview

Read the Bldg Blog interview with Mary Beard about the Wonders of the World series
(Part I and Part II)

Westminster Abbey is the most complex church in existence. National cathedral, coronation church, royal mausoleum, burial place of poets, resting place of the great and of the Unknown Warrior, former home of parliament, backdrop to the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales--this rich and extraordinary building unites many functions.

Westminster Abbey is both an appreciation of an architectural masterpiece and an exploration of the building's shifting meanings. We hear the voices of those who have described its forms, moods, and ceremonies, from Shakespeare and Voltaire to Dickens and Henry James; we see how rulers have made use of it, from medieval kings to modern prime ministers. In a highly original book, classicist and cultural historian Richard Jenkyns teaches us to look at this microcosm of history with new eyes.

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Editorial Reviews

What's On in London
Fresh and original...it's the next best thing to being there accompanied by an expert guide, with fascinating stories about the Abbey's history, influence and architectural style.
San Francisco Chronicle

Few of us have so sure a grasp of the history, architecture, artworks and literary connections of this venerable Gothic structure as Richard Jenkyns, a British writer who has made the landmark his own. Westminster Abbey is a secular hymn to a great church. Jenkyns, an Oxford professor with a fine historical sensibility, is a witty and erudite teacher.
— David Armstrong

Booklist (starred review)

Westminster Abbey certainly ranks as one of the top tourist draws in the world, especially for American travelers, and those desiring a deeper profile of this London church than what a basic guidebook generally offers will do well to pay attention to this beautifully articulated essay by an Oxford professor...Exploration of the abbey's evolving functions since its origins in the thirteenth century takes the author specifically into such topics as the nature of Gothic architecture (with particular attention paid to Henry VII's chapel), the circumstances by which the abbey became a royal mausoleum and pantheon of the great, its importance as a gallery of sculpture, its physical setting within London's changing cityscape, and its major function as the site of coronations. A mellifluous writing style caps this splendid reading and learning experience.
— Brad Hooper

Booklist (starred review) - Brad Hooper
Westminster Abbey certainly ranks as one of the top tourist draws in the world, especially for American travelers, and those desiring a deeper profile of this London church than what a basic guidebook generally offers will do well to pay attention to this beautifully articulated essay by an Oxford professor...Exploration of the abbey's evolving functions since its origins in the thirteenth century takes the author specifically into such topics as the nature of Gothic architecture (with particular attention paid to Henry VII's chapel), the circumstances by which the abbey became a royal mausoleum and pantheon of the great, its importance as a gallery of sculpture, its physical setting within London's changing cityscape, and its major function as the site of coronations. A mellifluous writing style caps this splendid reading and learning experience.
San Francisco Chronicle - David Armstrong
Few of us have so sure a grasp of the history, architecture, artworks and literary connections of this venerable Gothic structure as Richard Jenkyns, a British writer who has made the landmark his own. Westminster Abbey is a secular hymn to a great church. Jenkyns, an Oxford professor with a fine historical sensibility, is a witty and erudite teacher.
Publishers Weekly
Far from being the singular expression of a king's will to create a monument for all time, London's imposing masterwork is in fact something like the story of Europe itself: a living geography of accreted history, a "coalescence of functions" that, from one angle, can seem a junk heap of invariably outmoded ideas (sculptural, architectural and even religious), and on the other, a disorganized but breathtaking record of life, death, hope and futility that one wants to get lost in, as if one were experiencing a guided tour of the afterlife by Charon himself. Oxford don Jenkyns describes architectural qualities in intricate but not overwhelming detail, introducing the novice to new terms and concerns; he is particularly poetic in writing about light in the building, whether describing optical effects in the shadowy alcoves or the differences in the way light filters through new or old glass. In active service as a cathedral, a burial place for the esteemed and a venue for much-televised coronations and funerals, Westminster Abbey is also a clutter of monuments to poets, scientists, saints and kings, the divine and the pedestrian. If Jenkyns is not so omniscient a cultural historian as Simon Schama, he hits all the right notes briskly and cleanly, making this both a perfect tour book and a light educational read. (Mar.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Booklist
Westminster Abbey certainly ranks as one of the top tourist draws in the world, especially for American travelers, and those desiring a deeper profile of this London church than what a basic guidebook generally offers will do well to pay attention to this beautifully articulated essay by an Oxford professor...Exploration of the abbey's evolving functions since its origins in the thirteenth century takes the author specifically into such topics as the nature of Gothic architecture (with particular attention paid to Henry VII's chapel), the circumstances by which the abbey became a royal mausoleum and pantheon of the great, its importance as a gallery of sculpture, its physical setting within London's changing cityscape, and its major function as the site of coronations. A mellifluous writing style caps this splendid reading and learning experience.
— Brad Hooper
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674061972
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 10/15/2011
  • Series: Wonders of the World Series , #22
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 864,296
  • Product dimensions: 4.30 (w) x 6.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Jenkyns is Professor of the Classical Tradition at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Lady Margaret Hall. His previous books include The Victorians and Ancient Greece and Dignity and Decadence: Victorian Art and the Classical Inheritance.
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Table of Contents

Ch. 1 The medieval church 10
Ch. 2 Henry VII's chapel 47
Ch. 3 Renaissance and Reformation 55
Ch. 4 Death's palace 73
Ch. 5 From Baroque to Victorian 87
Ch. 6 The Abbey imagined 112
Ch. 7 The church in the city 130
Ch. 8 The nation's shrine 148
Ch. 9 The site of ceremony 162
Ch. 10 The Abbey now 189
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