A millennium of royal history at Westminster
September 6, 1997
Web posted at: 9:16 a.m. EDT (1316 GMT)
LONDON (CNN) -- For a thousand years the British monarchy has
traditionally crowned and buried its dead at Westminster
Abbey, the central London church where a funeral for Princess
Diana was held Saturday.
The abbey, a 13th century Gothic structure with some
buildings that are even older, stands as a symbol of English
culture and tradition, a living and breathing monument to
great historical moments. The abbey's pageantry and
possessions fill the pages of history books. Visitors cannot
fail to sense the history behind the church.
"I think over hundreds of years, something has almost got
into the stones," said the abbey's Rev. Richard Steele.
"They can feel the spiritual nature of the place."
Nine hundred years ago, Westminster was a Benedictine
monastery. Now, it is neither a cathedral nor a church, but
a "royal peculiar," meaning it does not form part of the
diocese of London but is directly under the queen's
It has been the setting for every coronation since 1066: 39
sovereigns have been crowned here, including today's Queen
Elizabeth II. The coronation chair is housed inside, a piece
of ancient woodwork made famous by Edward the First. It was
designed to hold the famous stone of Scone, seized from the
Scots in 1296.
Among the estimated 3,500 people buried within Westminster
Abbey are 17 kings and queens, including Elizabeth I and her
half-sister, Mary Tudor. Henry VII is buried behind the
altar of the Henry VII Chapel.
Eighteen years ago to the day, the abbey buried Lord Mountbatten, Prince Charles' uncle, who was murdered
by the Irish Republican Army in 1979. Not since then has the
abbey or London seen such a funeral as Diana's, with all the
trappings of state.
The church also has hosted royal weddings. Charles, the
Prince of Wales chose not to marry Lady Diana Spencer at
Westminster, choosing St. Paul's Cathedral instead. But
Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew made their marriage vows at
the abbey, as did Princess Anne before them.
Yet another page of the abbey's history is now in the making,
as Diana's funeral reaches unparalleled heights of worldwide
interest and attention.
Correspondent Brent Sadler contributed to this report.