Westminster Cathedral – part two of my March ‘Jollies.’
My visit to Westminster Cathedral is the next part of my March ‘Jolly, ‘which I really hope you’ll enjoy as much as I did.
Following a wonderful visit to Westminster Abbey we walked up the road to Francis Street, it was raining, and the street was busy with late afternoon shoppers and tourists, but nothing could ruin my first view of the largest and most important Catholic church in England and Wales.
I have no idea why but I can’t recall having seen it when I lived and worked in London. Again, I put it down to youth and the excitement of the ‘Swinging Sixties,’ and imagine my mind was on music, fashion, and all that went with living through those wonderful, crazy times. Well, that’s my excuse.
Later this year a novel I’ve co-written with award-winning author Christina Jones, about life and times in the 1960s, is due for publication via Accent Press. Keep an eye out if you are interested in the music, fashion and general vibe of those times.
The Cathedral is set back from the road and couldn’t be more different to the Gothic Westminster Abbey. The bricks are red and the style of the cathedral is early Byzantine. I just knew we were in for a special treat.
So, here’s a little history for those who enjoy it and for those who don’t, please just skip to the photos.
1248: A weekly market and annual fair are authorised to be held by the Abbot of Westminster in Tothill Fields future site of the Cathedral.
1651: Following the defeat of Charles ll at the Battle of Worcester, the defeated Scottish prisoners are quartered in Tothill Fields. 1,200 of them are buried there.
1665: Tothill Fields is used as a burial site during the Great Plague (Black Death).
1834: Tothill Fields Prison is opened on the site of the future Cathedral.
1850: The Diocese of Westminster is created by Pope Pius lX at the Restoration of the Catholic Hierarchy, with Nicolas Wiseman as first Archbishop. After centuries of discrimination and persecution, Catholics were given full rights as citizens in 1829. In the decades following immigration (from Ireland, above all) swelled the numbers and confidence of the Catholic community, so that when Pope Pius lX restored the Catholic dioceses and bishops in 1850, it was ready to assume a prominent role in the life of this country.
1867: Initial purchase of a cathedral site near the present Cathedral for £16,500. 1868 – more land is purchased for £20,000.
1883: Tothill Fields Prison is demolished.
1884: Cardinal Manning buys part of the site of Tothill Fields Prison for £55,000, offset by the sale of land purchased in 1867-68.
Cardinal Manning had hesitated about spending any more money following the purchase of the site in the rapidly developing area of Victoria, preferring that is should first be used for schools and the relief of the poor. Cardinal Vaughan had no such qualms.
1885: Herbert Vaughan, third Archbishop of Westminster, begins building on the prison site, with John Francis Bentley as the chosen architect. The first foundation stone is laid on 29th June.
Cardinal Vaughan’s first preference was for a Gothic Cathedral or a Roman style basilica, but subsequently adopted the early Byzantine style, for three reasons: Firstly, there would be no possibility of comparison with the exquisite and authentic Gothic architecture of Westminster Abbey, and secondly Byzantine churches allow for a large, uncluttered space, most suitable to the Catholic liturgy, and thirdly because decoration in Byzantine churches is applied (rather than integral to the architecture), they can be built quickly and relatively inexpensively, while decoration is left to the resources of subsequent generations.
The structure of the Cathedral is complete. First regular celebration of daily Mass and Divine Office on the Cathedral. Edward Elgar conducts his first London performance of John Henry Newman’s ‘The Dream of Gerontius.’
1906: Unveiling and blessing of the Baldacchino at Christmas Midnight Mass.
1910: Consecration of the Cathedral.
1918: Eric Gill completes the Station of the Cross.
1930: The body of St John Southworth is enshrined in the Chapel of St. George and the English Martyrs.
1935: The Lady Chapel mosaics are completed.
1948: The Cathedral domes are clad with copper, now an attractive shade of green by the way.
1955: Statue of Our Lady of Westminster is placed in the Cathedral and in 1962 Mosaics in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel are completed.
1964: Marble work of the nave and narthex is completed and in 1975 construction of the piazza is completed, opening views of the Cathedral from Victoria Street.
1982: Pope John Paul ll visits and Mass is celebrated in the Cathedral.
1995: HM the Queen visits during centenary celebrations. It’s the first visit of a sovereign to a Roman Catholic liturgy since the Reformation.
2005: The body of Cardinal Vaughan is re-interred in the Chapel of St. Thomas of Canterbury.
2010: Pope Benedict XVl visits and a Papal Mass and blessing of the mosaic of St. David is held. The opening of the Treasure of the Cathedral Exhibition takes place.
We were amazed at the numbers of people inside who were sitting in quiet contemplation and prayer and also at the long queue for Confession. With this in mind we kept a respectful distance and didn’t intrude where they were.
NOTHING prepared us for the amazing ceilings or the explosion of glitz and glitter all around us. After the grey stone of Westminster Abbey, this was such a surprise. In fact the camera had a job coping with the dazzling reflection coming off so many surfaces.
It is a lovely building inside, quite surreal really. A stark contrast to Westminster Abbey. We spent most of our visit with our eyes turned upwards, marveling at the wonderful ceilings and each little chapel we entered almost made us gasp out loud.
Westminster Cathedral, Cathedral Clergy House, 42, Francis Street, London SW1P 1QW
Tel:+44(0) 20 7798 9055
Service Times; +44(0) 20 7798 9097
I hope you have enjoyed these photos and the brief history of Westminster Cathedral. Let me know your thoughts. All photos are (c) Jane Risdon 2016; All rights reserved. The next installment of my March ‘jolly’ follows soon.