Westminster Cathedral. It stands tall and imposing at one end of London’s Victoria Street, with Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament at the other. Its tower, housing its bell “Great Edward,” is visible from Buckingham Palace.
The Cathedral has become a well-known London landmark, although it is, in fact, only just over 100 years old – as compared to the Abbey, which was founded by King Edward the Confessor before the Norman Conquest. Westminster Cathedral is the Cathedral of the Catholic diocese of Westminster, and the primary Catholic church in England, and was the brainchild of Cardinal Herbert Vaughan, who served as Archbishop of Westminster in the last years of the reign of Queen Victoria. When it opened in 1902, it was a symbol of a restored Catholicism which had emerged from penal days, and 100 years later the centenary was marked by a visit from HM Queen Elizabeth II, who attended Vespers and was welcomed by Cardinal Basil Hume.
And now the Cathedral needs help. On the Fourth Sunday in Lent – marked in England as Mothering Sunday, the equivalent of the American Mothers’ Day – the Cathedral Administrator, Canon Christopher Tuckwell, appealed for funds to ensure the future of this Mother Church of the Westminster Diocese. Addressing a packed cathedral – there is a good attendance every Sunday – he spoke about the needs of the building.
Urgent restoration and repair work on the Cathedral was carried out two summers ago, replacing the original electrical wiring which had been put in place in 1901 and had become extremely dangerous, and restoring security to the great dome, which had actually suffered some tilting during a World War II bombing raid which had caused long-term problems. The Cathedral’s striking Byzantine style marks it out among London’s buildings. Inside, the side-chapels are a glory of gold and mosaic. The building is never empty. From early morning until after the final evening Mass, people troop in and out, to pray, to sit or kneel in the silence, to go to confession, to say the Rosary or – especially in this Lenten season – to follow the Stations of the Cross.
But the sheer upkeep of the place imposes a great burden on London’s Catholic community. The great music tradition – the Cathedral has its own Choir School and the boys and adult choristers sing a High Mass daily – costs money to maintain; the building needs to be heated and cleaned and kept in good repair; staff and clergy need to be housed and fed. The vast dark spaces of the domed ceiling were originally meant to be covered in glittering mosaics – maybe that will happen one day. Meanwhile, many people daily find solace and inspiration beneath this great roof, praying at the shrine of St John Southworth, the martyred priest of the London Plague in the 17th Century, or kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament, or visiting the chapels dedicated to Saints George, Andrew, and Patrick.
If you’d like to help ensure that this great London church continues to flourish, you can find out more about it here.