The Collegiate Church of Saint Peter at Westminster, as is its official name, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The abbey, with its incredible Gothic architecture, attracts over a million visitors a year.
The abbey goes back more than a thousand years, with Benedictine monks arriving at the site in the middle of the tenth century. King Edward the Confessor ordered the construction of the original monastery, the only part of the original structure that survives today.
Westminster Abbey Like You've Never Seen It: Virtual Tour
Construction, slowed by a lack of church funds, took some 150 years, though chapels and monuments have been added many times since. The two towers over the main entrance at the western end of the building date from 1745.
The current Gothic church is a remnant of the abbey ordered built by Henry III in 1245. Some of the U.K.'s most famous people are buried or commemorated at the church, including 17 monarchs, T.S. Eliot, Rudyard Kipling, Isaac Newton, Jane Austen and Charles Darwin.
Located west of the Palace of Westminster in the heart of London, Westminster Abbey has been the site of coronations of all English and British monarchs since 1066. William the Conqueror was the first king to be crowned at the abbey, on Christmas Day in 1066. A special throne, King Edward's chair, has been used at every coronation since 1308. This is the throne on which every monarch sits at the moment they first wear the crown.
The abbey also houses a museum, located in a vaulted undercroft underneath a former monk's dormitory that dates back to the 11th century. The Westminster Abbey Museum displays royal artifacts including historic effigies, medieval glass panels, 12th-century sculptures, coronation regalia and wax figures. It is also the home of Westminster Retable, England's oldest altarpiece.
The marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton will be the sixteenth royal wedding to take place at Westminster Abbey. Since November 11, 1100, the abbey has hosted a tradition of being a royal wedding venue, although there certainly have been exceptions. Prince Charles, for example, married Princess Diana in St. Paul's Cathedral in 1981. Windsor Castle has also been a popular venue for royal weddings.
But don't expect anyone to be catching Kate's bouquet. Queen Elizabeth, mother of the current queen, began the tradition of laying her bridal bouquet on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in the abbey when she married the future King George VI in 1923.