Visitors to Westminster Abbey are to be allowed to stand – in socks – for the first time in the exact spot where the King will be crowned.
Special guided “barefoot” tours in celebration of the May 6 coronation will include access to the Cosmati pavement, one of Britain’s greatest medieval art treasures, which is usually roped off to the public.
The intricate 13th century mosaic floor – at the heart of the Abbey’s coronation theatre – has been the site of the crowning of Kings and Queens for more than 700 years.
It was covered over with carpet at many previous coronations including Queen Elizabeth II’s in 1953 and George VI’s in 1937, but for the King’s, it will remain uncovered, the Abbey said.
Rich in symbolism, it is said to depict the universe, with a spherical globe at its centre, and even foretells the end of the world.
Tourists – kept to small groups of 10 – will be asked to remove their shoes and walk in socks to help protect the pavement, made of geometric pattens of marble, stone, glass and metal, in the Sacrarium.
The guided Crown and Church visits will begin on May 15, a week after the coronation.
Charles will be crowned sitting in the Coronation Chair which will rest on a low stepped dais above the centre circle of the ancient floor in front of the High Altar.
The tour by Abbey experts will reveal the London abbey’s royal links, tell stories from coronations, visit the chair, and allow access to the pavement and explain its history and significance.
Finally, this portrait of HM The Queen wearing her State dress and robe, and standing in the Abbey, is by Ralph Heimans. It was commissioned to mark Her Majesty's Diamond Jubilee and shows her standing on the Cosmati Pavement – the place where she was crowned on 2 June 1953. pic.twitter.com/7PKkunsW9i
— Westminster Abbey (@wabbey) April 15, 2021
A spokesperson 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.”
The 24ft 10in square pavement was commissioned by Henry III and completed in 1268 as a glittering adornment to his Abbey.
A cryptic inscription even predicts the end of the world, claiming it would last 19,683 years, with a riddle adding together the life spans 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.
The pavement was hidden under carpet and away from public view for 150 years from the 1870s until it was unveiled after a two-year programme of conservation work in 2010.
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.
Scott Craddock, the Abbey’s 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 special programme include a new exhibition in the Chapter House.
It will explain and illustrate the key elements of the coronation service and its artefacts.
The display opens on April 12 and is included in entry to the Abbey.
The Crown and Church tours will run until July 29 and cost £15, plus Abbey entry.