Westminster Abbey is a large, mainly Gothic church located in the City of Westminster, London, just to the west of the Palace of Westminster. Its formal name is the Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster and is one of the most notable religious buildings in the United Kingdom.
It has been the traditional place of coronation and burial site for English and, later, British monarchs. Despite its name, the Westminster Abbey had the status of a cathedral between 1540 and 1556 and is no longer an abbey nor cathedral nowadays.
Its origins are not clear and its earlier history is surrounded by myths. The first reports of the abbey are based on a late tradition claiming that a young fisherman called Aldrich on the River Thames saw a vision of Saint Peter near the site.
Because of this story, in later years the Abbey received gifts of salmon from Thames fishermen. Nowadays, the Fishmonger’s Company still gives a salmon every year. The proven version of the Abbey’s origins is that in the 960s or early 970s, Saint Dunstan, assisted by King Edgar, installed a community of Benedictine monks here, and this is the earliest mention that is known to be true of Westminster Abbey.
However, construction of the present church began in 1245, on the orders of Henry III. Since 1066, the coronations of English and British monarchs have been held here. This custom was started when Harold Godwinson and William the Conqueror were crowned there. Since 1100, there have also been 16 royal weddings at the abbey, two of them of reigning monarchs Henry I and Richard II.
Since Westminster Abbey is a place of historical and cultural relevance, it has been listed as one of the World Heritage Sites protected by UNESCO. It can be visited throughout the year, with very few exceptions on 24th to 25th December, Good Friday and during ceremonial events.