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St Edward the Confessor’s Chapel and the Shrine of St Edward

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At the heart of Henry III’s rebuilding of Westminster Abbey was the magnificent shrine of St Edward the Confessor, whose patronage of the monastery was largely responsible for its wealth and importance.

The shrine stands in its own chapel behind the high altar and occupies the lofty, apsidal east end of the Gothic church. Its importance is emphasised architecturally by the processional ambulatory surrounding it and by the radiating chapels beyond. The original lavish decoration included a Cosmati-work pavement, laid at the same time as the great pavement in the sacrarium, though in a different style. Originally the shrine could be seen from the crossing and quire, and only when the altar screen was built in the mid-fifteenth century did St Edward’s Chapel become the enclosed space it is today.

Saints’ shrines were found in many medieval churches, but in Britain most were destroyed at the Reformation, and Edward is the only major English saint whose body still rests in its medieval shrine. Henry III’s devotion to the Confessor led him to choose burial close to the shrine. Several of his successors followed his example and five kings and four queens now lie here in some of the most important medieval tombs in the country.

The Shrine was in medieval times an important place of pilgrimage. In recent years, some elements of pilgrimage have been restored. Twice a day, some of the Abbey’s community and visitors assemble in the Shrine for prayer, in addition to parish pilgrim groups each week and a national pilgrimage in Edwardtide, an important element in the Abbey’s annual rhythm of prayer and devotion.