Stand in your socks where King Charles will be crowned

·3-min read
Abbey Marshal Howard Berry walks across the centre of the Cosmati pavement - Jonathan Brady/PA
Abbey Marshal Howard Berry walks across the centre of the Cosmati pavement - Jonathan Brady/PA

Westminster Abbey is to allow visitors to walk in their socks over the exact spot on which the King will be crowned for the first time.

The guided “barefoot tours” will offer access to the Cosmati pavement, the spot on which every monarch has been crowned since the 13th century.

The pavement, which is considered one of Britain's greatest medieval art treasures, is usually roped off to the public.

On May 6, the Coronation Chair will be placed on the intricate mosaic floor of marble, stone, glass and metal.

Charles will be crowned on the ancient chair, which will rest on a low stepped dais above the centre circle of the ancient floor in front of the High Altar.

Hidden with a carpet for 150 years

The pavement was commissioned by Henry III and completed in 1268 as the glittering adornment of his abbey.

It was hidden with a carpet for 150 years from the 1870s, meaning that it was not seen during previous coronations, including Queen Elizabeth II's in 1953 and George VI's in 1937.

However, having undergone a two-year conservation programme, it was uncovered in 2010 and will be on display during the King's Coronation.

The late Queen was depicted standing on the spot where she was crowned in Australian-born artist Ralph Heimans' portrait for her Diamond Jubilee in 2012.

Rich in symbolism, the pavement is said to depict the universe with a spherical globe at its centre.

A cryptic inscription even predicts the end of the world, claiming it would last 19,683 years, with a riddle adding together the lifespans of different animals including dogs, horses, men, stags, ravens, eagles and whales.

It is considered the best surviving example outside Italy of a rare type of mosaic stonework known as Cosmati after the Italian family who perfected the technique.

Tourists will be in groups of 10

Until 2010, it had rarely been seen. When it was occasionally uncovered to allow members of the public a glimpse, long queues were said to have snaked around the block.

The guided Crown and Church visits will begin on May 15, a week after the coronation.

Tourists – kept to small groups of 10 – will be asked to remove their shoes and walk in socks to help protect the pavement, located in the Sacrarium.

The tour by abbey experts will include details about the church’s royal links, tell stories from coronations, visit the chair and allow access to the pavement with explanations about its history and significance.

A spokesman for the abbey said: “It will be the first time in living memory that the abbey has invited visitors to walk on the Cosmati pavement where the Coronation Chair will be placed for the crowning of HM The King on Saturday 6 May.”

Scott Craddock, the head of visitor experience, said: “The coronation will be a joyous and significant moment for the nation, and for Westminster Abbey.

“We hope that our special programme of events and digital resources gives everyone an opportunity to join in with the celebrations.”

Other elements of the programme include an exhibition in the Chapter House which will explain and illustrate the key elements of the coronation service and its artefacts.

The display opens on April 12 and is included in the abbey entry fee.

The Crown and Church tours will run until July 29 and cost £15, plus entry.