Within the Abbey itself, there are many people interred who, through their actions, beliefs or memories, shaped England, Europe and the world. Because of its location near the center of England’s seat of power, Westminster Abbey has been the burial place of many members of English royalty. Of the English monarchs, there are many who have been laid to rest there: “Henry III, Edward I, Edward II, Richard II, Henry V, and six queens, whose tombs are in St. Edward’s Chapel, and Henry VII, Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth, and Mary Tudor, and Margaret, the widow of Henry V, who lie buried in Henry VII’s Chapel”.
(Dean and Chapter of Westminster) The Abbey contains some 600 monuments and wall tablets – the most important collection of monumental sculpture anywhere in the country – and over three thousand people are buried here. Notable among these is the Unknown Warrior, whose grave, close to the west door, has become a place of pilgrimage. (Dean and Chapter of Westminster) Sir Isaac Newton is one of the most famous persons found within the Abbey. Because of his work in mathematics and physics, Newton has been heralded as one of the most important figures in modern human history.
It was for that reason; he was chosen to be interred within the halls of Westminster. Charles Darwin is another famous icon of science who was interred within Westminster. His treatise on evolution, though still controversial today, within many religious circles, changed the manner in which man looked at the world, and at himself. There are also several important literary persons within Westminster. Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Dickens, Edmund Spencer, Rudyard Kipling, among others have been honored by being buried there.
(Jenkins 75) Much like the cemetery Pere Lachaise, in Paris, France, Westminster Abbey has become the iconic home of some of literature’s most famous contributors. England itself has been seen as the birthplace of modern literature. Because of this, it is not surprising to see many literary historical landmarks within England’s borders. Shakespeare, Spencer, and Chaucer are among the many writers and poets who, over their lifetimes, produced works of such great importance, they have been seen as changing the world of literature.
Westminster Abbey, in turn has been the eternal home of these great members of the literary world for many centuries. Because of its conglomeration of history’s great English writers, Westminster Abbey has been seen as part of the art itself. Although not a typical landmark of literary importance – as Shakespeare’s theatre is – Westminster Abbey has because a point of pilgrimage of many writers and literary historians over the years. Samuel Johnson made this pilgrimage during his lifetime. The English writer, poet and biographer toured the Abbey in the 18th century.
This visitation would be an important memory for the writer, as he chronicled the trip several times during his life. As Phillip Connell recounted in his article on the importance of Westminster Abbey to the literary world: Samuel Johnson liked to recall a visit to Westminster Abbey he once made in the company of Oliver Goldsmith. As the two men of letters passed the monuments to Chaucer, Shakespeare, Spenser, and Milton, in what Addison called the “poetical corner” of the Abbey, Johnson quoted Ovid: “perhaps out names also be mingled with these”.
(Connell 558) This quote turned indeed prophetic, as following his death in 1784, Johnson was in fact interred within the “poetic corner” of Westminster Abbey. The correlation between the abbey and the literary world has been moving closer as the decades go on. For many contemporary scholars, and literary historians, the Abbey has become the means through which the present literary world meets the past. Though not all of the names found within the Abbey walls have been actually interred there.
Another honor bestowed on certain people is the act of Commemoration. Westminster Abbey commemorates, and acknowledges the deeds of several important figures of history. Among these chosen few is Martin Luther King Jr. The American Civil Rights leader and pastor, King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee in 1968. Because of his important work in the American Civil rights Movement, and the meaning that movement carried throughout the world, King was acknowledged in Westminster Abbey following his death. (Jenkyns 79)