Westminster Abbey is a large and famous Anglican church in Westminster, London. It is the shrine of Edward the Confessor and the burial place of many kings and queens. Since it was built it has been the place where the coronations of Kings and Queens of England have been held. The present structure dates from 1245, when it was started by Henry III.
The status of the Abbey is that of a Royal Peculiar. This means it is place of worship that falls directly under the jurisdiction of the British monarch, rather than under a bishop. The concept dates from Anglo-Saxon times, when a church could ally itself with the monarch and therefore not be subject to the bishop of the area. Technically speaking, it is not a cathedral, though it is regarded as one in practice.
Since the coronations in 1066 of both King Harold and William the Conqueror, coronations of English and British monarchs were held in the Abbey. Henry III was unable to be crowned in London when he first came to the throne because the French prince Louis (later Louis VIII) had taken control of the city. So the king was crowned in Gloucester Cathedral, but this coronation was deemed by the Pope to be improper, and a further coronation was held in the Abbey on 17 May 1220.
King Edward's Chair, is the throne on which British sovereigns sit when the crown is put on their heads. It is kept in the Abbey, and has been used at every coronation since 1308. From 1301 to 1996, the chair also housed the Stone of Scone upon which the kings of Scotland are crowned. Although the Stone is now kept in Scotland, at future coronations the Stone will be returned briefy to St Edward's Chair for the moment of coronation.
Until the 19th century, Westminster was the third seat of learning in England, after Oxford and Cambridge. It was here that the first third of the King James Bible Old Testament and the last half of the New Testament were translated. The New English Bible was also put together here in the 20th century.
he Abbey contains the Westminster Retable, the oldest known panel painting altarpiece in England. It was painted in the 1270s by some of the Plantagenet court painters, probably for the High Altar. It was probably donated by Henry III of England as part of his Gothic redesign of the Abbey.