First built by Edward the Confessor between 1045 - 1065 in the Norman style, it replaced an earlier church on the same site. It was built as an abbey for the Benedictine monks and was consecrated on December 28, 1065. It was rebuilt in the Gothic style between 1245 - 1517, with Henry VII adding a perpendicular style chapel in 1503.
In 1579, Elizabeth I re-established Westminster as a "royal peculiar" -- a church responsible directly to the sovereign, rather than the Archbishop of Canterbury -- and made it a school, the Collegiate Church of St. Peter. Since then, the head has been not a bishop (although the Abbey is the seat of the Bishop of London) but a dean, appointed by the monarch. 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.
William the Conqueror was the first monarch crowned in the Abbey and all subsequent English monarchs (except Edward V and Edward VIII, who did not have coronations) have been crowned there. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the traditional cleric in the coronation ceremony.
The church contains the bones of St Edward the Confessor as well as the remains of many other famous persons. These include Ben Jonson, Geoffrey Chaucer, Edmund Spenser, John Dryden, Dr Samuel Johnson, Charles Dickens, Robert Browning, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Rudyard Kipling, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Lord Kelvin, Ernest Rutherford,George Friderich Handel, Henry Purcell, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Laurence Olivier, William Pitt the Elder, William Pitt the Younger, William Ewart Gladstone, Clement Attlee, and David Livingstone. Oliver Cromwell was buried in the abbey but Charles II ordered his remains removed.
Nearest London Underground stations:
See also: List of other famous burial sites