Royal Footwork: Westminster Abbey’s Majestic Mosaic Floor

Yes, Catherine Middleton’s Sarah Burton-designed Alexander McQueen dress was absolutely sublime and Prince William looked regal and dashing in his Irish Guards red tunic, but take a good look at the amazing mosaic floor the glamorous couple crossed in front of Westminster Abbey’s High Altar. The dazzling inlaid stone pavement, which is almost 25 feet square, was laid in 1268 by artisans brought in especially from Rome. It’s known as the Cosmati Pavement, after the method of its construction, and consists of abstract geometrical patterns built up from pieces of stone of different colors and sizes cut into triangles, squares, circles, rectangles, and many other shapes. The central roundel is made of onyx and the pavement also includes purple porphyry, green serpentine, and yellow limestone. Until recently, the pavement was too delicate to be walked on, so it was covered with thick carpet during services, weddings, funerals, and even for Queen Elizabeth’s coronation. But a 2008 restoration has stabilized the pavement sufficiently for the mosaic to remain uncovered in all its splendor for the Royal Wedding.

Catherine Middleton and Prince William cross the Cosmati Pavement in Westminster Abbey

Kate Middleton and Prince William cross the 743-year-old Cosmati Pavement in front of the High Altar in Westminster Abbey.

The Cosmati Pavement in front of the High Altar in Westminster Abbey

The mosaic was laid in 1268 by artisans brought in especially from Rome by order of Henry III who had started re-building Abbey in the new Gothic style.

The complete Cosmati Pavement after cleaning and conservation

Thirty-eight kings and queens have been crowned standing on the Cosmati Pavement, which has been mostly hidden under protective carpet for the last 150 years, even during Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953. A recent restoration allowed it to  remain uncovered during Kate and William’s wedding.

Cosmati Pavement Close u

The geometric patterns are created from pieces of stone of different colors and sizes cut into a wide variety of shapes.  The central roundel is made of onyx, and the pavement also includes purple porphyry, green serpentine, and yellow limestone, alongside pieces of opaque colored glass—red, turquoise, cobalt blue, and bluish white. Unusual for the era, the work lies in a bed of dark limestone—white was normally used for this kind of work in Italy.