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Westminster Abbey (Wonders of the World) Hardcover – 26 Mar 2008


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Hardcover, 26 Mar 2008
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; New edition edition (26 Mar. 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674017161
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674017160
  • Product Dimensions: 12.1 x 1.9 x 18.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,823,707 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

Westminster Abbey certainly ranks as one of the top tourist draws in the world, especially for American travelers, and those desiring a deeper profile of this London church than what a basic guidebook generally offers will do well to pay attention to this beautifully articulated essay by an Oxford professor...Exploration of the abbey's evolving functions since its origins in the thirteenth century takes the author specifically into such topics as the nature of Gothic architecture (with particular attention paid to Henry VII's chapel), the circumstances by which the abbey became a royal mausoleum and pantheon of the great, its importance as a gallery of sculpture, its physical setting within London's changing cityscape, and its major function as the site of coronations. A mellifluous writing style caps this splendid reading and learning experience.--Brad Hooper"Booklist (starred review)" (12/15/2004)

From the Publisher

This book is both an appreciation of an architectural masterpiece and an explorayion of the building's shifting meanings. In a highly original book, classicist and cultural historian Richard Jenkyns teaches us to look at this microcosm of history with new eyes. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Kurt Messick HALL OF FAME on 6 Jan. 2006
Format: Hardcover
Westminster Abbey has long been a seat of royal and ecclesial significance; certainly since the time of Edward the Confessor (before the Norman Conquest), up until the most recent times (royal weddings and the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, perhaps the most watched funeral in history). According to the introduction of Jenkyns book, it is 'perhaps the most complex building of any kind'. It still bear the stamp of being a 'royal peculiar' - in that the clergy and ecclesial hierarchy of the abbey fall outside the standard patterns of the church, and instead fall under a more direct jurisdiction of the monarch.
Its history is as impressive as its architecture. It has been a cathedral church and an abbey, a coronation church, a 'national church'; it houses Poets' Corner, the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, the shrine of a Roman saint, and more. The national legislature (the House of Commons) has met here, and it has been both the National Archive and the National Treasury. Still, it is not as large as the French Gothic cathedrals upon which it is based, and (Henry VII's Chapel excepted) much of the art and architecture of the building, each element taken separately, can be better represented elsewhere. However, as a package whole, Westminster Abbey is second to none.
Jenkyns' book on Westminster Abbey is not a tourist guide, but rather a wholistic history of the building. Looking in detail beginning with the medieval church (there were much older structures on the site, but what we come to think of as Westminster Abbey today was really born in the medieval period), Jenkyns continues chronologically through the Renaissance, Reformation, Baroque and Victorian periods.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 9 reviews
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
An English glory of the Gothic style 10 Aug. 2005
By FrKurt Messick - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Westminster Abbey has long been a seat of royal and ecclesial significance; certainly since the time of Edward the Confessor (before the Norman Conquest), up until the most recent times (royal weddings and the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, perhaps the most watched funeral in history). According to the introduction of Jenkyns book, it is 'perhaps the most complex building of any kind'. It still bear the stamp of being a 'royal peculiar' - in that the clergy and ecclesial hierarchy of the abbey fall outside the standard patterns of the church, and instead fall under a more direct jurisdiction of the monarch.

Its history is as impressive as its architecture. It has been a cathedral church and an abbey, a coronation church, a 'national church'; it houses Poets' Corner, the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, the shrine of a Roman saint, and more. The national legislature (the House of Commons) has met here, and it has been both the National Archive and the National Treasury. Still, it is not as large as the French Gothic cathedrals upon which it is based, and (Henry VII's Chapel excepted) much of the art and architecture of the building, each element taken separately, can be better represented elsewhere. However, as a package whole, Westminster Abbey is second to none.

Jenkyns' book on Westminster Abbey is not a tourist guide, but rather a wholistic history of the building. Looking in detail beginning with the medieval church (there were much older structures on the site, but what we come to think of as Westminster Abbey today was really born in the medieval period), Jenkyns continues chronologically through the Renaissance, Reformation, Baroque and Victorian periods. Jenkins then explores particular aspects of the Abbey overall - as a place of ceremony, as a national cathedral or shrine, as a church in and of the city, and the church as a masoleum of sorts of the famous and historical (this last chapter is somewhat out of place, put among the chronological listings).

Jenkyns draws on wonderful material for a complete picture of the spirit of the place. There are poems from the Renaissance up to the twentieth century - Betjamin's portrayal of a woman visiting the Abbey during the war time is a classic example. He has historians and royals with their own reflections of events that have taken place, and material from clergy and monastics who have lived, worked and worshiped here. 'The world changes, but as a building and as a community, the Abbey continues to do what the Benedictines called the opus Dei, the work of God, to teach and preach and praise.'

Jenkyns is not shy with his opinions. For example, in discussion the change in the north transept rose window, he has little good to say about Pearson's replacement of it in the restoration of the late nineteenth century. 'Pearson was a very fine architect and it is a pity (and puzzling) that he chose to blot his escutcheon in this way.' Jenkyns similarly describes others' attempts at restoration and improvement as 'impertinent', 'controversial', and 'destructive'.

The book could benefit from a few more diagrams and a few colour photographs (the only colour prints are on the sleeve on the outside of the book; the rest are black-and-white, which, while they have their own character and excellence, still do not give a sense of the glory of certain aspects, such as the Henry VII chapel). However, the text is interesting, easy to read and interesting without being simplistic or not engaging with its subject, itself a complex Gothic creation.

Part of a series published in the United States by Harvard University Press, published previously in the United Kingdom by Profile Books Ltd., this volume is a joy to have.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Scholarly, Pithy, Witty 24 Nov. 2008
By P. B. Sharp - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Professor Jenkyn's little book at only about 8 inches high is nevertheless the horse's mouth on Westminster Abbey, but Jenkyns treats the Abbey not as a rather gloomy pile of stones but as an edifice writhing with history and atmosphere that is, in essence, England. The professor knows every stone and sculpture and tomb and floor mosaic and window in the great cathedral and vividly describes many of them for you, but it's the anecdotes about the people who in whatever way contributed to the history of the Abbey and left their souls there, so to speak, that make this book such a charmer and an absolute cup of tea and a must for the person ga-ga about the Abbey. Like me.

Jenkyns relates the Abbey observations of many people over the centuries, including awed remarks by the Americans Nathaniel Hawthorne and Washington Irving, Disraeli, and even the young Princess Elizabeth at her father, George VI's coronation, which the eleven year old girl charmingly describes thusly:

"I thought it all very, very wonderful and I expect the Abbey did,too!"

Jenkyns is in no way hesitant in giving his opinion about just about everything he describes in the Abbey, and he is often hilarious. For instance, Samuel Johnson's body is buried in the Abbey in a rather humble vault, but Johnson's friends insisted on erecting a large marble statue of him which could not be placed in the Abbey because the sculpture was too big. It was therefore set up in St Paul's and Jenkyns describes the figure:

"A marble Johnson larger than life size and in something approximating to Roman dress now stands ... barefoot and bare-chested. With a scowl on his face and with some indeterminate remnant wrapped around his middle, he looks all too like someone who has just leapt from the bath to answer a wrong number."

We are treated to the episode of the 17th century diarist Samuel Pepys and Katherine of Valois. Katherine was the French wife of Henry V. During Henry VIII's time her coffin was disinterred and thrown into a niche somewhere completely unprotected. By Pepy's time the coffin had been eroded to the point where you could actually see the skeleton inside. For a shilling or two you could take a special tour for a peek and Pepys actually poked his head inside the coffin and kissed the queen on the lips, bragging about his big coup afterwards in his diary. Poor Katherine! How she would have loathed the thought of that vulgar exhibitionist kissing her!

"Westminster Abbey" is both erudite and light-heartedly serious, and is highly recommended!

P.S. The modern tourist, except by special arrangement, cannot visit the room where the shrine to Saint Edward the Confessor is. That structure, which was altered by Mary I, is simply too fragile. Edward's body is actually buried under an ancient mosaic floor some yards away in front of the high altar, but the shrine itself could be considered the heart of the Abbey and its holiest place. To see the shrine, close up and in wonderful detail here's an alternative for ya. Buy this game: "Mystery in London." This is a Hidden Object game which I describe here on Amazon. Even if the game as such does not appeal to you, chances are you'll be amused by seeing things like a hotdog suspended from the ceiling and the golden effigy of Edward I clutching a bowl of salad, and the panoramas of Westminster Abbey are breathtaking. I have never seen any images from any book that can compare in clarity and detail to the Abbey scenes in this game. You get to visit Saint Paul's, too, and those images are wonderful as well. Many more London locations are represented in the game, but the Abbey scenes and the incredible interiors of Saint Paul's blew me away. To learn more visit "Mystery in London" here on Amazon.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Westminster Abbey - Heart of a Nation 5 Aug. 2009
By Glen V. Mcintyre - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Westminster Abbey by Richard Jenkyns (Harvard University Press, 2005) is one of a general series of books called Wonders of the World under the general editorship of Mary Beard. Some of the other books in this series are: The Temple of Jerusalem, The Alhambra, The Parthenon, the Tomb of Agamemnon, The Colosseum, Stonehenge and the Forbidden City. Each of these books are short, Westminster Abbey is 215 pages and each is in a small compact format which makes for easy reading.
Westminster Abbey not only gives a brief history of the Abbey, but talks about its importance in cultural history. In the case of the Abbey, it went from being the mausoleum of the royal family to being the burial place of a wide variety of famous people ranging from Isaac Newton to Lawrence Olivier and the location of ceremonies important to the British people ranging from the coronation of Kings and Queens to royal weddings and even the funeral of Princess Diana. It is a definite must read for all of those interested in the importance of Westminster Abbey in British History.Westminster Abbey (Wonders of the World)
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Needs more diagrams 27 Dec. 2013
By Kindle Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is about one of the finest examples of gothic architecture, yet features sorry few digrams and/or photos. Granted, there is a lot of descriptive language, a lot of amazing description, but when the thing that is described is a visual masterpiece, words fall short.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A Great Read 10 Sept. 2013
By Two Mirrors - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A very informative and descriptive book. As I have toured Westminister Abbey several times - it describes the Abbey in both historical and architectural integrity. The author compliments his text with high quality photos in an organized manner as if the reader is walking through the Abbey itself. Rather than buying the high end museum copy, this book is more complete with as much photo and description that brings the impact of the Abbey right into one home or office. The impact on me was to have a handy reference to the Abbey on those days which made me yearn to return and walk those quiet rows. The seller did an accurate portrayal and detail of the book and shipping was fast.
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