It was during his exile in Normandy that Edward vowed to make a pilgrimage to Rome if he should ever take the throne of England. Edward did become king but he soon became concerned that the country would be vulnerable to attack, and this prevented him from fulfilling his vow. Pope Alexander III, however, released him from this promise on the condition that he built an abbey in honour of St. Peter.
Edward was good to his word, he re-endowed and enlarged a small Benedictine monastery on the banks of the River Thames to create his new church, work began in the years between 1042 and 1052.
Edward's church the Collegiate Church of St Peter was consecrated on the 28th December in 1065. Of the construction, a monk of the French Abbey of St Bertin’s wrote:
“Outside the walls of London … stood a monastery dedicated to St Peter, but insignificant in buildings … . … The king , therefore … gave his attention to that place, for it both lay hard by the famous and rich town and also was a delightful spot, … … decided to have his burial place there. Accordingly, he ordered that out of the tithes of all his revenues should be started the building of a noble edifice, worthy of the Prince of the Apostles; so that, after the transient journey of this life, God would look kindly upon him, both for the sake of his goodness and because of the gift of lands and ornaments with which he intended to ennoble the place. And … there was no weighing of the costs, … so long as it proved worthy of … God and St Peter”.
As the date of the abbey's consecration approached, Edward's health deteriorated and he was too ill to attend. Only eight days later the king was dead. Edward's church survived until the reign of Henry III when it was demolished and work on the present Westminster Abbey began in 1245.
Henry's Gothic masterpiece was consecrated on 13th October 1269.