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A short history of the city of London and Westminster Abbey (The Collegiate church of St. Peter at Westminster) follows.

Everyone knows about London, from nursery rhymes (London Bridge is Falling Down) to Henry VIII, William Shakespeare, the great fire of 1667 and the emergence of Christopher Wren and St. Paul’s Cathedral, to tales of Jack the Ripper, the bombardment of World War II, and lastly the trials and tribulations of the Royal Family. Some substance, some symbolism. However, we need to try to discover the origins of the city.

Celtic settlements preceded Roman occupation, perhaps as early as the Bronze and Iron Age periods, but recorded history did not begin until the time of the Roman Emperor Claudius. It was during the reign of Claudius that Roman forces landed on the southern coast of England. These forces used the River Thames, which literally runs right through modern London, to further their economic and military objectives. The first recorded comments can be found in a work by the Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus: Annals, written in the first century C.E. He described an uprising of northern tribesmen led by Queen Boadicea, who actually succeeded in retaking the city, killing 30,000 inhabitants in the process. But her victory was short-lived, and the Romans retook what is now London. They immediately built walls to protect against further incursions, with construction running for three miles, with a height of 7.62 meters (25'). Roman occupation ended in 407 C.E., when the armies left to defend against Germanic incursions on the continent, leaving the British towns to fend for themselves.

The fifth century saw Anglos, Saxons, and Jutes fighting, resulting in London becoming the capital of an Anglo-Saxon kingdom. Pope Gregory sent a Benedictine monk, Augustine, to Christianize Britain. A word here, just in case there might be some generalized confusion between the appellations England and Britain, and to repeat similar discussion in SESSION SEVEN above: Britain or Great Britain involves the British Isles, which include separate countries of England, Scotland, Wales, and as of this writing – Northern Ireland. Honestly, the distinction never occurred to me until I traveled through the area. We so often interchange England with Britain. The British Empire was once described as being an entity on which “the sun never set,” with colonies circling the globe, thus that statement.

London became a place of royal residence in 796, and in 884 Alfred the Great made London his capital, rebuilding the defensive works. The Danish king Canute came in the 10th century followed by William of Normandy in 1066, crowning himself William I, the Conqueror. That coronation took place in Westminster Abbey, which is about as good a segue as we are going to get.

“Stained” glass in Westminster Abbey – obviously, almost clear.

© Architecture Past Present & Future - Edward D. Levinson, 2009

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