Yesterday, Prince Charles laid the foundation stone for a new museum space to be located in Westminster Abbey’s triforium (arched gallery above the nave), full of historical artefacts found within the abbey itself.
The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries, as the new exhibition is to be known, will display the Abbey’s rich and varied thousand-year history in a 13th century attic which was used for storage, with the largest collection of Tudor sculptures in the world.
Prince Charles is patron of the new project, and laid a foundation stone on Wednesday. The Prince of Wales took the builders lift up to the triforium to see how work, which began in April 2015, was progressing.
Hidden for almost 700 years, treasures will include the Liber Regalis, a 14th-century illuminated manuscript setting out the blueprint for Coronations, and the crimson velvet cope worn by the Dean of Westminster at Charles II’s coronation in 1661. The galleries are due to open in 2018 granting public access to treasures and collections of the 13th-century attic.
Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, meanwhile, was at Clarence House decorating a Christmas tree with children from a hospice.
The present church was begun by Henry III in 1245, and is one of the most important Gothic buildings in the country. It is the final resting place of 17 monarchs – including Elizabeth I, – and has been the setting for every Coronation since 1066. 16 Royal Weddings have also taken place at Westminster Abbey.
As a Royal Peculiar, The Queen and not the local bishop has jurisdiction over the abbey; this is the same for the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincular at the Tower of London, and the Chapels Royal at St James’s and Hampton Court.
The elevated internal gallery will be accessed by building via a new tower at the east end of the church’s medieval triforium. Sitting 70ft above the ground, visitors will have fantastic views over the abbey, and across to the Palace of Westminster, the home of Parliament; former UK Poet Laureate John Betjeman is alleged to have described the view as the finest in Europe.
It is located outside Poets’ Corner opposite the Houses of Parliament, and will be made of glass, wood, lead and stone, in-keeping with the gothic design of the church. A staircase for visitors will wind round the lift structure at the centre, taking you to the medieval gallery and new display. This will be the first physical addition to the Abbey since its iconic towers by Nicholas Hawksmoor were completed in 1745.
The tower and galleries will cost £18.9m, of which almost £11m has been raised. People are asked to make a donation of minimum £10 or sponsor a pane of glass in the new tower for £100 to help #MakeHistory.
Prince Charles wrote a message for the project’s web page:
“I am delighted, as Patron of the Westminster Abbey Appeal, to be lending my personal support to this important project. Westminster Abbey occupies a special place in the affections of the nation as a whole. Opening up the Triforium of the Abbey to public access will add immeasurably to the experience and delight of the visitor to this beautiful and much-treasured building.”
“This is a most exciting development which will allow visitors to the Abbey to see so much more of our wonderful treasures and to grasp the richness of the history of this holy place which represents faith at the heart of the nation.” said Dr John Hall, Dean of Westminster.