chapter  4
17 Pages

Sacred memory

The Elizabethan monuments of Westminster Abbey
WithPeter Sherlock

This chapter discusses the historical processes through which a heritage site was created and cultural significance attributed to that heritage. Seventeenth-century visitors to the Abbey could even obtain a souvenir guide, suggesting a careful cultivation of literate tourism, in the form of a Latin book by William Camden detailing the monuments and their inscriptions. Washington Irving, in his famous account of a visit to Westminster Abbey, first published in 1820, writes: The scene seemed almost as if contrived, with theatrical artifice, to produce an effect upon the beholder. The Abbey’s tombs and their emotional impact were indeed the product of ‘theatrical artifice.’ The Abbey and its tombs survived the dissolution of the monasteries in the sixteenth century, overthrow of monarchy in the seventeenth and even nineteenth-century proposals to remove all of the memorials. The chapter demonstrates that the contemporary shape of Westminster Abbey as a museum of monuments, a heritage site, was largely a creation of the late Elizabethan period.