Feet for a king: Westminster Abbey to offer barefoot tours

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LONDON (AP) — People who visit London's Westminster Abbey after the coronation of King Charles III will be allowed to stand on the exact spot where he was crowned, but they will need to make sure they don't have holes in their socks for the shoeless tour, designed 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 chair in which Britain's monarchs are crowned has been placed for some 700 years, will be on display during Charles' May 6 coronation 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 crowning ceremony. Visitors will be asked to remove their shoes to avoid wear and tear to the floor, which was restored to its former glory after a two-year conservation project was completed in 2010.

“Standing on the pavement and feeling that sense of awe of being in the central part of the abbey is a really amazing experience," Scott Craddock, the head of visitor experience at the famous church. “It will give people the opportunity to feel what it’s like being at that center stage of the coronation.”

King Henry III commissioned the intricate mosaic of marble, stone, glass and metal, located in front of the abbey's high altar, in the 1200s. Italian craftsmen and English masons made it.

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.

The mosaic is said to be the best surviving example outside Italy of a rare type of stonework known as “Cosmati,” after the Italian family which created it.

“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.,” Vanessa Simeoni, the abbey's head conservator, said.

Experts from the abbey will guide the tours, which will run on some days from May 15 to July 29.