Visitors to London’s Westminster Abbey will be allowed to stand for the first time on the exact spot where King Charles III will be crowned – though after the coronation. And they will need to make sure they don’t have holes in their socks for the shoeless tour, meant to protect the abbey’s medieval mosaic floor.
Abbey officials said Friday that the section of the church’s floor known as the Cosmati pavement, where the coronation chair has been placed for about 700 years, will be on display during Charles’ crowning ceremony after being hidden away under carpets for decades because of disrepair.
The pavement area, normally roped off to the public, will be open to small guided “barefoot tours” after the May 6 coronation. Visitors will be asked to remove their shoes to avoid wear and tear to the now-conserved floor.
“Standing on the pavement and feeling that sense of awe of being in the central part of the abbey is a really amazing experience,” said Scott Craddock, head of visitor experience at the abbey. “It will give people the opportunity to feel what it’s like being at that centre stage of the coronation.”
The intricate mosaic of marble, stone, glass and metal, located in front of the abbey’s high altar, was commissioned by Henry III in the 1200s and made by Italian craftsmen and English masons.
It is where English – and, later, British – coronations have taken place ever since, but the area was covered by carpet at many previous coronations, including those of Elizabeth II in 1953 and her father, George VI, in 1937.
It is said to be the best surviving example outside Italy of a rare type of mosaic stonework known as “Cosmati,” after the Italian family which created it. The mosaic was restored to its former glory after a two-year conservation project was completed in 2010.
“It’s a unique piece of art to Westminster Abbey but also to Britain itself – there are no other mosaic pavements like this in the U.K.,” said Vanessa Simeoni, the abbey’s head conservator.
Experts from the abbey will guide the tours, which will run on some days from May 15 to July 29.