What's the Word?
"A Royal Peculiar is a place of worship that falls directly under the jurisdiction of the British Monarch rather than under a bishop, an ordained member of the Christian clergy who is generally entrusted with a position of authority and oversight. The concept dates from Anglo-Saxon times, when a church could ally itself with the monarch and therefore not be subject to the bishop of the area." (Wikipedia)
Westminster Abbey is a "Royal Peculiar" and briefly held the status of a cathedral from 1546 to 1556. The Dean of Westminster is directly answerable to Queen Elizabeth II, who has reigned as monarch of the United Kingdom and its overseas territories since 1952.
If you have been living under a rock, you may have missed last week's wedding of HRH Prince William of Wales to Commoner Catherine Middleton. The couple will now be addressed as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Another bit of history was added to Westminster Abbey on Friday as Middleton took that long walk - beneath the 102 foot high, intricately designed Gothic vault - toward her groom and into her royal future.
Pomp and circumstance were everywhere apparent for the occasion, but even more impressive than the array of hats for the event is the history and architecture of Westminster Abbey.
Westminster Abbey is one of the world's greatest churches, a designated World Heritage Site and ﾠit is one of the most important Gothic buildings in that country.
It has more than a thousand years of history.
Benedictine monks were first brought to Westminster in 960 AD.ﾠ At a time when very few people, even kings, could write, monasteries were the main source of education.
The coronation of kings and queens has taken place in the Abbey since 1066 and more than 3,000 revered men and women from nearly every century are buried there. In addition to kings and queens, there are statesmen, politicians, lawyers, scientists, composers, warriors, clerics, artists, poets and writers: William Shakespeare, Winston Churchill, Charles Darwin, Sir Issac Newton, Charles Dickins, Sir Laurence Olivier, Robert Browning, Geoffrey Chaucer, Rudyard Kipling and Alfred Lord Tennyson, just to name a few.
The 11th century Abbey was founded by King Edward the Confessor and was consecrated on December 28, 1065, just a week before his death.
The present building dates from the reign of King Henry III.
Henry III died in 1272 and only one bay of the nave had been completed at that time.ﾠ Several additions were made over the centuries with the greatest being the construction of the new Lady Chapel by Henry VII in 1503 and 1519.ﾠ The last phase of construction was the completion of the West Towers in 1745.
There are several books available on the construction and restoration of Westminster Abbey such as W.R. Lethaby, Westminster Abbey and the Kings' Craftsmen: a study of medieval building (1906); F. Bond, Westminster Abbey (1909); T. Cocke, 900 Years: the Restorations of Westminster Abbey (1995); and T. Tatton-Brown and R. Mortimer (eds), Westminster Abbey: The Lady Chapel of Henry VII (2003); and Walter Leedy "Fan vaulting, a study of form, technique and meaning" (1980).
If those volumes sound a little stuffy, you might want to take a look at Ken Follett's historical novel, "The Pillars of the Earth,"ﾠabout the building of a cathedral in the fictional town of Kingsbridge, England.ﾠ It is set in the mid- 12th century and you will find that life as portrayed in that novel nor cathedral building in that day and time were for the faint-hearted.
In his preface to "The Pillars of the Earth," Follett writes, "When I was a boy, all my family belonged to a Puritan religious group called the Plymouth Brethren.ﾠ For us a church was a bare room with rows of chairs around a central table....So I grew up pretty much ignorant of Europe's wealth of gorgeous church architecture."
We can understand where Follett is coming from and after the events of last week in London, our local churches surely paled in comparison of history and architecture to Westminster Abbey.
Our local churches may not be elaborate, but they are familiar.
And though we are not "royal," we are sometimes rather "peculiar."ﾠ