Thursday, 31 May 2007

St Francis and St Anthony

Two designs for mosaics from Leonard McComb RA which have today received final approval. They will be erected close to the entrance to the Cathedral, in the small semi-domes above the holy water stoup, and St Anthony's shrine, respectively. Mr McComb has shown St Francis preaching to the birds, and St Anthony to the fish; they will translate beautifully into mosaics and, hopes the artist, prove a particular delight to children.
The mosaics will be erected in memory of Mgr Francis Bartlett (Administrator 1967 - 1977) and his brother Anthony (gentiluomo to several Cardinals, and a great benefactor of the Cathedral), and the funding has been raised by the Bartlett family.

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Choir Recordings

Fr Tim is a demon on e-bay, and has picked up these recordings of the Cathedral choir; the one above of Sir Richard Terry. We have not yet heard it, but await to do so with interest. As he was the first Master of Music, pre-dating George Malcolm (who introduced the so-called 'continental' tone), Terry's choir will be fascinating to hear.

A recording from 1972, privately financed by the late Lord Anthony Furness - a great benefactor of the choir. Lord Furness used to pay for an orchestra to accompany the choir on Christmas and Easter mornings.
An interesting recording for several reasons; the sleeve note is written by Cardinal Heenan, speaking of the choir's unique role. Within a few years, financial pressures were to lead him to the conclusion that the choir had to be disbanded - a decision thankfully never put into action.
This is the first recording made by Colin Mawby, successor to George Malcolm, and sales of the record were intended to support the choir.
The first soprano (or treble) listed is Nicholas Keay, who now sings as a tenor lay clerk in the choir. The sleeve also lists Richard Rex as alto; Richard's son at present is a treble in the choir!

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

God and Mammon

Viewed in the right way, even the products of human technology and consumerism can be seen as channels of grace, reminding us of the great gifts of human ingenuity and creative skill given us by God. On Sunday, there was a visual symbol of this, with the reflection of the Cathedral imposed upon Cardinal Place opposite!

Monday, 28 May 2007

Twenty Five Years ago - a Pope at the Cathedral

Today is a Bank Holiday, and (as usual) grey and very wet. But it is a day filled with memories, for twenty five years ago today Pope John Paul II visited Westminster Cathedral. It was the first (and only) visit by a reigning Pontiff to this country.

Those were, I remember, heady days. England was at war with Argentina, and the Papal visit was almost cancelled. It went ahead, but the Pope visited Argentina the following month. On the domestic front, Prince Charles had just announced his engagement to Lady Diana Spencer. At a personal level, I was sitting finals at University, and so could only follow the visit on television - although many friends made the journey from Cambridge up to Coventry to participate in the Papal Mass there.

The weather (unlike today) was glorious, and the visit was a great blessing upon the Catholic community of this country. Perhaps one of the most memorable events was the Holy Father's visit to Canterbury, where he knelt side by side with the Archbishop of Canterbury at the tomb of St Thomas a Becket - a vision of a unity which has yet to be accomplished. But for all those who recall those days, it was a thrilling and unbelievable occasion that will live forever in our memories. At Westminster, as the plaque at the foot of the sanctuary proudly records, the first Papal Mass was celebrated. I would be glad to hear from any of you who have memories of that day!

Awaiting the Popemobile

Above, final preparations for the visit. Hundreds of 'red cap' volunteers acted as stewards, while the Catholic Police Guild oversaw operations. Crowds had gathered early on the Piazza, while behind, in leafy Ambrosden Avenue, the balconies began to fill ...

The Popemobile drove on to the Piazza - archbishop Marcinkus leading the way. The bishops of England and Wales, and of Scotland, were assembled to greet the Holy Father, together with the Chapter of Westminster Cathedral, in their red silk cappas.
Flag sellers clearly made a great profit that day!

Visit to the Blessed Sacrament

Pope John Paul visited the Blessed Sacrament before Mass - here he kneels with Cardinal Basil Hume and Canon Oliver Kelly, the Administrator of the Cathedral.

He also seems to have visited during or after Mass.

The Papal Mass

One can only imagine the vast work involved in organising this Mass, the first of the Papal visit, and the first ever by a reigning Pontiff in this country. Every inch of the Cathedral was crowded - everyone had a special reason for being there!

A Papal throne was constructed to the exact dimensions of the Cathedra of the archbishop, and was dressed in white and positioned at the High Altar. As a deacon at Our Lady of Victories in Kensington in 1989, I remember this throne, preserved there as a relic.

Either side of the Holy Father were the relatively youthful Cardinal Basil Hume of England and Wales, and Cardinal Joseph Gray of Scotland. To the Pope's left is his Master of Ceremonies, Mgr McGee - an Irishman!

The hierarchy of England, Wales and Scotland was assembled before the chief shepherd.

Out on the Balcony

The Holy Father ascended the balcony at the front of the Cathedral, to give his benediction to the crowds below. In the days before Cardinal Place, the opposite side of Victoria Street was still occupied by dismal office blocks; the Piazza was crowded, as was every available rooftop and balcony.

Meeting the Choristers

Following Mass, the Holy Father met delighted choristers in the Long Corridor. To the left stands the Master of Music, Stephen Cleobury.

The Holy Father also met the Headmaster of the Choir School and his wife, Peter and Pamela Hannigan. I mentioned the anniversary yesterday at Mass in the Cathedral, and wondered out loud if there were any of the congregation who had been present at the Papal Mass twenty five years ago - and looking down, spotted Peter and Pamela!

From the Baptism Register

The records of the four people baptised by Pope John Paul during Mass at Westminster Cathedral. The Papal visit was devised around the seven sacraments - one of the most moving ceremonies being Anointing of the Sick at Southwark. Westminster, the beginning of the Papal visit, focused appropriately upon baptism.

Sunday, 27 May 2007

Sister Mericia does it again

Sister Mericia produced this astonishing cake at lunchtime, notable not only for the Holy Spirit and its seven gifts, but also for the Grinling Gibbons chocolatework adoring it! This follows her glorious confections for Easter and Christmas. Needless to say, nobody had the temerity to cut it ..

Pontifical High Mass of Pentecost

The Cardinal celebrates Mass in the Cathedral for Pentecost. The Choir sang Palestrina's Mass Dum Complerentur, based on the plainchant melody for Pentecost Sunday, as well as Tallis' motet Loquebantur Variis Linguis.

Vestments for Pentecost

The Cardinal today wore a chasuble from one of the most magnificent sets of vestements owned by the Cathedral; on a rich byzantine fabric, the chasuble is decorated with gold flames on velevt bands. The dalmatic boasts applied pendants set with moonstones.

The copes, used today for the Divine Office, are especially magnificent.

The set was created for Cardinal Francis Bourne in 1928 by A. E. Grosse of Bruges, Belgium.

Come, Holy Spirit

The Sacrament of Confirmation was conferred at Mass last evening on the youth of the parish. As well as being a Diocesan and national Church, Westminster Cathedral has its own parish, and so this was a particular cause for rejoicing. While large Confirmations take place four times each year, for adults from around the Diocese who (for whatever reason) have missed receiving the Sacrament, this annual event is more intimate and focused.

Bishop John, as ever, celebrated faultlessly, addressing the young candidates on their own terms without seeming to condescend. We are fortunate in our bishops - the four Westminster auxiliaries confer the Sacrament in around 200 churches each year, all during the Easter period. Our Confirmation Mass is, I know, one of five that Bishop John will celebrate this weekend.

It was an especial privilege to celebrate this Sacrament at Pentecost, when the gift of the Holy Spirit truly echoes in the hearts of disciples, and strengthens us to proclaim the Gospel.

Saturday, 26 May 2007

A couple of Diamonds

It is a huge privilege for any priest to celebrate a marriage; a special privilege also to be present and to bless a sixtieth wedding anniversary! This has happened to me twice recently, and I am keen to publicise these occasions. As well as being a great milestone for the couples concerned, it is a wonderful sign to the rest of us of the joy and blessings of married life - a message ever more imortant in our times. Above, Maria and Jack Parmenter celebrate their diamond wedding anniversary with a blessing in the Lady Chapel.

Here: Tom and Kathleen O'Driscoll, whom I blessed yesterday. They married in the Lady Chapel of Westminster Cathedral on 7 June 1957, having met previously at Sunday School! They are both an increasingly rare example of a couple who were born and have lived in the Cathedral parish all their lives. Indeed, Kathleen's parents also married in the Cathedral. Tom went to serve in the Royal Navy during the second world war, but came back to London afterwards to marry his childhood sweetheart.

Friday, 25 May 2007

Artistic Moments

Inspired, perhaps, by the arrival of great art at the Clergy House yesterday, I set aside some time to take some new photographs in the Cathedral for the 2008 Calendar we are preparing. As ever, the Cathedral and its contents provide endless new ideas and fresh expressions of faith. A preview, above, is of the statue of St Peter.

More de Maistre

You will recall from an earlier posting that we hold several works of art by the australian painter Roy de Maistre. Yesterday arrived another, a large crucifixion from Hayes parish in west London, which they are donating to the Cathedral on permanent loan. The parish of Hayes has a considerable artisitic heritage, boasting a large altar-piece by Pietro Annigoni (now, I wouldn't mind having that on loan!).

The de Maistre is large - almost six feet high - and we will have an interesting time working out where to hang it. It is, however, good that we now have a sizeable collection of this artist's work.

Thursday, 24 May 2007

The Dream of Gerontius and Westminster Cathedral

Tonight, the Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus performs Elgar's Dream of Gerontius - his setting of Cardinal Newman's glorious poem - to mark the 150th of the great composer's birth. It recalls the last performance of the Oratorio in the Cathedral, in June 2003, which itself marked the centenary of its first London performance, given at the newly constructed Westminster Cathedral in 1903.

The first performance of the work, in Birmingham, had been a disaster. After successful performances in Germany, Sir Edward Elgar was ready to try it again, and the London event was a triumph, establishing the Dream of Gerontius as one of the greatest of Elgar's works, and a worthy setting of Newman's poem.
For our centenary performance in 2003, we were loaned Elgar's original manuscript score, from the Birmingham Oratory.

Our guest of honour was Prince Charles, a fan of both the composer and the Cardinal!

Even more astonishing, the Oratory loaned us Cardinal Newman's manuscript copies of the poem - in draft and final form. The poem was given to Sir Edward Elgar (a catholic) as a wedding gift, and it was his life's ambition to set it to music.

Both the original, and the centenary, performances took place in the presence of the Duke of Norfolk, and the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster. Below, a famous old picture shows the newly opened Archbishop's House; on the hoarding to the extreme left, and advertisement for the 1903 performance of the Dream of Gerontius!

That great event, and its centenary, are commemorated by Tom Phillips' panel in the Holy Souls' chapel.