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Westminster Abbey’s Hidden History

Far above the royal pomp and circumstance, archaeologists unexpectedly discover seven centuries of England’s past

July/August 2018

Westminster Abbey is one of the most famous buildings in Christendom. It has stood witness to signal events, serving as the site of English coronations for almost one thousand years, hosting dozens of royal weddings and funerals, and containing the tombs of monarchs, poets, scientists, and countless other notable Britons. Recently, it was the site of an unusual archaeological dig. The excavations did not take place outside on the Abbey’s grounds, as might be expected, but instead in the triforium—an arcaded gallery some 70 feet above the nave, or central aisle.


Westminster Abbey Triforium ViewThe 20th-century poet John Betjeman described the triforium as offering the “best view” in Europe. Today, many people have, without realizing it, experienced that vantage point on television. The cameras that broadcast important Abbey ceremonies are often stationed in the triforium to provide a bird’s-eye view of the events. The gallery itself has not been open to the public since it was built in the thirteenth century, but that is set to change. Abbey authorities have decided to transform it into a museum space, soon to be known as the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries. Since the triforium is currently only accessible via a narrow wooden spiral staircase, a new tower, which will provide visitors with direct access to the triforium from outside, is being constructed. This is the first major architectural addition to the Abbey in 350 years.



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