Biography All Music Guide
All Music Guide:
Westminster Abbey, the historic church associated more deeply than any other with the pageantry of English history, dates back nearly a thousand years to the time of King Edward the Confessor, the last of England's great pre-Norman monarchs. Edward's palace was located in the City of Westminster (which is now part of Greater London). Edward determined to re-endow and enlarge a Benedictine monastery located on Thorney Island nearby. The church he envisaged was consecrated December 28, 1065. However, the King was already stricken with his mortal illness, and could not attend. He died a few days later, and was buried on the site. Since then, it has been the burial place of royalty and of great figures of the kingdom.
Within a year, Westminster Abbey saw the Coronation of the man who had conquered Edward's kingdom, the Norman William the Conqueror, who was crowned there on Christmas Day, 1066. Since then, every coronation has taken place there. The original Norman-design monastery was replaced by order of King Henry III, who wanted a Cathedral in the new style now associated with the great cathedrals of Europe.
The Benedictines were expelled when King Henry VIII formed the Church of England. Queen Elizabeth I formed the present constitution of the Abbey in a charter granted in 1560. It is a Collegiate Church, a "Royal Peculiar" not under the rule of any bishop, but with the Sovereign as its Visitor.
The Quire of the Abbey is the part where the monks originally worshipped. The current Choir was rebuilt in the 19th century in Victorian Gothic style by Edward Bloor. The choir, in the word's modern sense of singing group, comprises twenty-two boy choristers and twelve men singers, who are called Lay Vicars. The organ was built by Christopher Shrider in 1727, but was rebuilt in 1909 and 1937, and extensively re-worked in 1983 and 1987.
The Choir of Westminster Abbey has made significant recordings, and appears in the great occasions that take place in the Abbey, some of which are nationally and internationally televised. These included, sadly, the 1998 funeral services of Princess Diana.