Westminster Abbey reopens to visitors this weekend

Westminster Abbey is to reopen to visitors on Saturday after its longest closure since the Queen’s coronation nearly 70 years ago.

The royal church in central London has been shut for four months because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Steeped in more than a thousand years of history, the gothic Abbey has been at the forefront of major royal ceremonies for generation after generation.

The Abbey
Westminster Abbey reopens to visitors on Saturday (Anthony Devlin/PA)

The Queen as Princess Elizabeth wed the Duke of Edinburgh in the historic surrounds, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge married there in 2011.

Diana, Princess of Wales’s funeral took place at the Abbey and it is the final resting place of 17 monarchs – among them Charles II and Elizabeth I.

Visit England has awarded the Abbey its Good to Go official kite mark in recognition of its high standards of protection through cleanliness and social distancing.

The Royal Wedding
William and Kate during their marriage ceremony in the Abbey (Dominic Lipinksi/PA)

It will initially be open to visitors on Saturdays and Wednesday evenings, with a limited number of timed-entry tickets available solely through advance booking online at westminster-abbey.org/visit-us.

A spokeswoman for the Abbey said: “The return of visitors is vital for the future of the Abbey, as it is entirely self-funding, receiving no support from the Church, State or Crown.”

It opened for private prayer on June 15 and began public worship again on July 5 .

The Lady Chapel
The Lady Chapel in Westminster Abbey (John Stillwell/PA)

It now holds 22 services weekly, but is limiting the size of congregations to maintain social distancing.

The Abbey has been the coronation church since 1066, and the Queen’s was the 38th.

Ahead of Elizabeth II’s ceremony in June 1953, the nave was closed from December 1 1952, and then the whole Abbey for five months from January 1 1953.

The coronation
The Queen’s coronation in 1953 (PA)

It was shut in order to build the huge bank of tiered seats needed to accommodate over 8,000 guests, and to assemble a substantial pavilion outside.

It was also closed for around a week before William and Kate’s wedding to allow the BBC to prepare their equipment for the live broadcast and for the couple’s final preparations.

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