Westminster Abbey’s secrets revealed 50ft up

£24m museum reveals objects never seen before.

Westminster Abbey’s triforium – an extra floor built in the 13th century for chapels that were never created – is to be opened by the Queen as a museum on June 11.

The Queen, in her Diamond Jubilee Portrait by Ralph Heimans, with the effigies of William III and Mary II

For more than 850 years the space has been used for storage of monuments, sculptures, pieces of masonry and other objects hidden from the public, but in a £22.9m transformation it has become a museum that tells the story of the abbey both as a place of worship and the venue for coronations, royal marriages and royal funerals.

The triforium as it looked in 2015

More than 300 objects, many of them never before put on public display, are in the permanent exhibition in the museum created by Stuart McKnight of the architects MUMA and the abbey’s curator Susan Jenkins. A special tower has been built for access to the triforium by Ptolemy Dean, surveyor of the abbey’s fabric.

Properly laid out for the first time are the medieval funeral effigies of monarchs, including Edward III, Henry VII and Catherine de Valois, Henry V’s queen. There are also later was effigies of monarch including Queen Anne , and of national  figures  such as Lord Nelson.

Key objects are the Liber Regalis, the 14thcentury  document laying out the rules for a coronation; the Westminster Retable, England’s oldest altarpiece; Henry V’s  saddle, shield, sword and helmet; and a monk’s shoe from the 13thcentury.

 

The wooden funeral effigy of James I's queen, Anne of Denmark, who died in 1619, by Master Sculptor to the Court Maximilian Colt

The abbey was first built in 960 as a Benedictine monastery, and rebuilt by Edward the Confessor in 1065. In the 1250s Henry III rebuilt it in the Gothic style, a d over the years there have been additions and repairs by the likes of Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor 

The project has been entirely funded by donations.

 

30,000 fragments of medieval glass were found under the triforium floorboards, some of which, including this head, have been incorporated in the donors' window

“The views are breath-taking; the space astonishing; the displays fascinating” said the Dean of Westminster, Dr John Hall. “The visitor will gain a far greater insight into the life and history of the Abbey than ever before.

“The fulfilment of this vision is a shared achievement with so many people involved” he said.

 

 

 

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