Robbing Peter to pay Paul (Westminster Abbey)

December 17th – On this day in 1540, the Abbey Church of St Peter Westminster was made a Cathedral with its own See.   Not long afterwards, it was incorporated into the Diocese of London, and much of its estate was sold off to pay for repairs to St Paul’s – hence the expression, “robbing Peter to pay Paul”.

The Abbey was originally founded, as the Benedictine Monastery of St Peter, by the Bishop of London, Dunstan, under the Saxon King Edgar, in 960, on what was then Thorney Island – according to legend, on the site of a church founded by Sebert in around 604 (the same year that St Paul’s was founded).  It was rebuilt under Edward, “The Confessor”, in the years up to 1065, rebuilt again,  in the Early Gothic style, under Henry III, in 1245-72, and extended, in the Late Gothic style, under a succession of kings, including Henry VII, in 1376-1516 (in part by the master mason Henry Yevele). The present structure is essentially surviving thirteenth- to sixteenth- century,  although with some eighteenth-century additions in the form of  the west towers,  by Hawksmoor, and some twentieth-century  additions and restorations.  There are a great many important monuments in the interior, including those of no fewer than seventeen monarchs.  An equally large number of important state occasions have been held in the Abbey, including all of the Coronations since that of the first Norman King, William I, the Conqueror, in 1066.  The fore-runner of Parliament, the “Great Council”, first met in the Chapter House here in 1257, only later moving to nearby Westminster Hall.

Westminster Abbey South Entrance

Henry III’s thirteenth-century north entrance with Rose Window (Church of St Margaret to left)

Martyrs' Memorial

Twentieth-century martyrs’ memorial

Westminster Abbey West Towers by Hawksmoor

Hawksmoor’s eighteenth-century west towers

Gothic architecture

Thirteenth-century flying buttresses

Chapter House, Westminster Abbey

Henry VII’s early sixteenth-century Lady Chapel

The Abbey is visited – although not entered – on our “St Paul’s to Westminster Abbey – Priories, Palaces and Parliaments” walk.  This or any of our other walks can be booked either by e-mail ( or by  phone (020-8998-3051).

One thought on “Robbing Peter to pay Paul (Westminster Abbey)

  1. Pingback: Westminster Hall | The Lost City of London

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