Sunday, 20 January 2008

The First Administrator meets the Pope

Monsignor Canon Patrick Fenton was Administrator of Westminster Cathedral from 1894 - 1904, that is, from shortly before laying the foundation stone to shortly after the opening of the Cathedral. Inevitably, much of his tenure was taken up with fundraising for the new building.


In 1896, he toured the Continent, and headed at once for Rome:
"When the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster entrusted me with the noble mission of collecting for our great Cathedral on the continent of Europe, my first thought was to seek those limina Apostolorum, which have ever been the loadstone of the priests and bishops of God's Church in earth."

In Rome, he was to be received by Pope Leo, but was held up by the delayed arrival of the drawings and plans of the intended Cathedral: "The promised plans and designs had not reached me, and Cardinal Rampolla, the Pontifical Secretary of State - the keenest and most courteous of diplomats - assured me that the Holy Father's sollicitude would be more aroused, and his pastoral joy greater, if he saw the picture and more detailed drawings which were on their way."
Eventually the plans arrived, and the measurements and notes converted into Italian. Mgr Fenton was granted an audience woth Pope Leo XIII on 30 April:
"Monsignor Merry del Val stood by my side .. On this occasion he simplified my task by gently prompting me when occasionally the Pope wandered from French into Italian.

.. I rose from my knees, and carefully laid out the plans of Westminster Cathedral, which he silently scrutinised for some moments, taking in every technical detail of nave, aisles, altars and crypts, especially the latter.. The comparison between the Metropolitan Cathedral and St Paul's, London, was a leading theme of our colloquy."

The Pope noted that building the Cathedral would involve a tremendous outlay of funds. Mgr Fenton replied:
"Holy Father, our Cardinal Archbishop's intention is to construct the shell of a Cathedral with High Altar, canons' stalls and all that is essential to Divine Worship, whuch can be a achieved in three years at a cost of £15,000. The work of internal decoration may be handed over to the next generation.

"The Pope was curious to know how an English architect could have evolved a design which so accurately develops the early Chrisitan Basilica in its plenitude. I then informed him that Mr Bentley, the architect, had been in Italy for six months to study this very style at its fountain head. The Holy Father exclaimed: "Now I understand. And he has not lost his time, for it will be a noble cathedral, and I congratulate him." Looking at the etching of the interior, he added naively, "I suppose you are going to use white marble?" "Certainly," I unthinkingly answered; whereupon, with a twinkle in his eye, and shaking his forefinger, Leo XIII said: "Don't! When I went to St Paul's they showed me some black marble, which they assured me was white! You have too much smoke in London, tell Cardinal Vaughan, for white marble."

The Pope contributed £1,000 to the building of the Cathedral. His name is duly inscribed in the sacristy, at the head of the list of donors, as a Founder of Westminster Cathedral.

2 comments:

John the organist said...

How times have changed! Thank God for cleaner air!

Alex Hill said...

What a pity the Administrator doesn't get the same garb now!