Westminster Abbey, also known as the Collegiate Church of St. Peter at Westminster, was established by a Royal charter of Queen Elizabeth I which created it as a “Royal Peculiar” under the personal jurisdiction of the Sovereign. A collegiate church is a church where the daily office of worship is maintained by a college of cannons, a non-monastic or “secular” community of clergy, and is organized as a self-governing corporate body. It is not the seat of a bishop and has no diocesan responsibilities.
According to legend, it was Mellitus who was the first Bishop of London and the third Archbishop of Canterbury that founded the Abbey. Mellitus died in 624 AD. However, the proven origins of Westminster are that in the 960s or early 970s, St. Dunstan with the assistance of King Edgar established a community of Benedictine monks at this location. Between 1042 and 1052 King Edward the Confessor began rebuilding St. Peter’s Abbey in order to provide himself with a royal burial church. That church was not completed until around 1090 but was consecrated on December 28, 1065, just a week before Edward the Confessor’s death. Construction of the present church was begun in 1245 by Henry III who had selected the site for his burial.
Henry VIII assumed direct royal control in 1539 and granted the abbey the status of a cathedral by charter in 1540 and simultaneously issued letters of patent establishing the Diocese of Westminster. But Westminster was a cathedral only until 1550. The Abbey was restored to the Benedictines under the Catholic Mary I of England, but they were again ejected under Elizabeth I in 1559. In 1579, Elizabeth re-established Westminster as a “Royal Peculiar”, which it has remained to this day.
Since the coronations of both King Harold and William the Conqueror in 1066, the coronations of English and British monarchs have been held in the Abbey. Since 1100 there have been at least 16 royal weddings at Westminster Abbey. The most recent one being Prince William, Duke of Cambridge to Catherine Middleton on April 29, 2011.