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“Hidden” Attic in Westminster Abbey Is Opening as a Museum

Visitors can view more than 300 relics from the Abbey’s 1,000-year history and peer out at one of the best views in Europe

Westminster Abbey's hidden “attic” (Image courtesy of Westminster Abbey; Photo taken by Alan Williams)
smithsonian.com

High above the ornate chapels, famed royal tombs and precious relics of the British monarchy, London’s Westminster Abbey is home to a "hidden" medieval attic. Known as the triforium, Sir John Betjeman, a former poet laureate of the United Kingdom, once called it “the best view in Europe.” Few, however, have been able to experience it; for the past 700 years, the enclave has been closed to the general public.

That will change on Monday. The triforium is opening up to the public on June 11 as a new museum called the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries. (Fundraising efforts began in the 60th year of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign—her Diamond Jubilee). As Martin Bailey reports for the Art Newspaper, the new museum will showcase 300 artifacts from the Abbey’s 1,000-year history.

To allow visitors to reach the triforium, which is a 50 foot climb up, architect Ptolemy Dean designed a beautiful new tower onto the church—the first major addition since towers, designed by the architect Nicholas Hawksmoor, were built between 1722 and 1745.

The new Weston Tower, which Oliver Wainwright of the Guardian likens to a “gothic space rocket,” blends a contemporary aesthetic with elements from the past. Thousands of stained glass shards, which were discovered while the triforium was undergoing renovations, have been incorporated into the tower’s windows, according to Betty Wood of The Spaces. The tower’s star-shaped layout was inspired by an intersecting square motif found in the Henry VII Lady Chapel.

Once visitors arrive at the gallery, they will encounter hundreds of relics organized into four themes: Building Westminster Abbey, which traces the church’s history back to its foundations in 960 C.E.; Worship and Daily Life; Westminster Abbey and the Monarchy; and the Abbey and National Memory, which explores how the Abbey—with its many tombs and memorials—has become an important site of remembrance in the U.K.

Among the highlights on display are a life-like funeral effigy of Henry VII, the coronation chair of Mary II and a 300-year-old stuffed African Grey parrot that, in its livelier days, was a favorite companion of Frances Stuart, the Duchess of Richmond and Lennox. For fans of the modern-day royal family, the wedding certificate of Prince William and Kate Middleton, who were married at Westminster Abbey in 2011, is also on display.

In a statement, the dean of Westminster's John Hall, said that he thinks “people will be amazed and thrilled at the space and the views, as well as the astonishingly rich collection of objects on display, with connections throughout the past thousand years.”

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including NYmag.com, Flavorwire and Tina Brown Media's Women in the World.

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