5 Secrets Of Westminster Abbey

By Daan Deol Last edited 12 months ago
5 Secrets Of Westminster Abbey

What links Salmon, Martin Luther King, and the crown jewels? Yep, Westminster Abbey. Find out how, below...

Westminster Abbey - Photo: Jamie Koster

1. Ring, ring...

There's a reason the telephone number for Westminster Abbey begins 222. In the early 20th century, the popularisation of the rotary telephone saw the code 222 ascribed to Westminster Abbey, for ABB as in ABBey. Both the A and the B are on the number 2.

2. Island life

Over 1,000 years ago, when the first incarnation of the church was built, it existed on a little island on the Thames called Thorney Island. The island was described as a 'horrible place' in a charter of Anglo-Saxon King Offa of Mercia. However, due to its elevations and firm structure, it was considered perfect for building the abbey and the Palace of Westminster.

A telephone box outside Westminster Abbey. Photo: Suse wilson

3. The Martin Luther King statue

Though it might seem incongruous with a medieval cathedral, there's a statue of Martin Luther King above the west gate of the abbey. It's one of 10, including St Elizabeth of Russia and Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. Added in 1998, these statues' niches were empty since the middle ages. The abbey chose martyrs from every continent, who fought repression.

4. The crown jewel debacle

During medieval times, the church was used not only as a monastery but also as a warehouse for storing the crown jewels and various other precious items. That was, until the great crown jewel robbery of 1303, when thieves stole much of Edward I's wealth while he was campaigning in Scotland. Monks were initially blamed for the theft (and went to the Tower of London for it), but Richard Pudlicote of Oxfordshire was later blamed and executed. After this damaging episode, the jewels were moved to the more secure Tower of London.

5. Something fishy...

The medieval tiles in Chapter House at Westminster Abbey. Photo: Brent Miller

The tiled floor of the abbey's Chapter House feature depictions of salmon. It is speculated that these relate to a tradition of St Peter, and how he would reward ferrymen who helped him across the river with the assurance that they would have plentiful catches. Another story goes that St Peter himself demanded that a church on Thorney Island be built and dedicated to him. The Fishmongers' Company still presents a salmon to the abbey every 29 June, St Peter's Day.

Last Updated 21 December 2016