Saturday, 30 June 2007

Richard Nesbitt's Ordination

Richard served at the Cathedral as deacon for a year - above is an image of him chanting the Gospel at the annual Christmas celebration. He was ordained priest in the Cathedral on 16 June with his classmate John Elliot. Marcin Mazur has just sent these wonderful pictures in.

The prostration of the candidates is a powerful and moving moment, as they offer their lives to the service of the Lord.

"What do we do next?" The new priests ponder their immediate future, as the Ordination Mass draws to a close.

Friday, 29 June 2007

St Peter, dressed for his Feast

The statue of St Peter is dressed, in imitation of the practice in St Peter's Basilica in Rome. The tiara stays on, I believe, purely by the power of prayer! In a serious vein, this feast not only honours our two chief apostles, but also also underlines our communion with the See of Peter and the roots of our catholic faith.

In Search of Andalus

A poignant little tale last evening. Two Spanish priests joined us for Mass at the Cathedral; they explained that they were Canons at Cordoba Cathedral, in Spain, who had spotted three wooden beams from the Mezquita in Cordoba presented for auction at Christie's, in London. They had come to London to speak to the auction house, to try to persuade them that these items had been stolen, and to withdraw them from sale. Let us pray for the success of their mission.

The Mezquita is a the astonishing Moorish mosque that now contains the Cathedral in Cordoba.

Thursday, 28 June 2007

Our Newest Chaplain

We welcome Edward Houghton, ordianed deacon in the Cathedral on the feast of Corpus Christi, as the newest member of the College of Chaplains. Edward is, like John Southworth, a Lancashire man, coming from Preston (once the most catholic town in England). He will be with us for a year, leading up to his priestly ordination in 2008. We are delighted, and blessed, to have him with us.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

The Feast of St John

The Feast of Saint John Southworth is kept as a solemnity in the Cathedral, for we are privileged to house his body, rescued after his execution at Tyburn.

Born in Lancashire in 1592, he was ordained priest in Douai, France, in 1618. At that time, it was illegal to celebrate Mass, and priests were liable to execution as traitors.

Returning to England, Southworth ministered in Westminster, in the area close to where the Cathedral now stands. During the plague of 1636, he tended the sick with outstanding devotion and courage.

Eventually he was arrested and condemned in 1654. He was hung, drawn and quartered at Tyburn gallows (Marble Arch) on 28 June 1654 - the last secular priest so to suffer. His remains were taken to Douai, and in 1930 returned to England.

Here now he lies, at rest in the parish where once he laboured for the Lord.

Early Morning Pilgrims

The Translation of St John - 1930

The procession bearing the casket that contains the relics of St John Southworth (as he was then, Blessed John) passes the south elevation of the Cathedral, on 1 May 1930. He had lain in the Cathedral Hall during the night. It was the first occasion of enshrining a saint in London since the Reformation.

The Westminster Cathedral Chronicle records the event:

The solemn tolling of the bell heralded the procession, which was headed by the men of the Blessed Sacrament Guild, in scarlet habits, followed by the choir, the clergy and the Cathedral Chapter, chanting the psalms from the Vespers of a martyr. In the midst was the martyr, in his crystal casket, veiled in white, borne by eight priests. Before him walked bishops in crimson robes and golden mitres. The Cardinal Archbishop followed with his pastoral staff.

The eight priests bearing the casket were two seculars, two Benedictines, two Franciscans and two Jesuits.

The Chronicle continues:

While the procession was passing, a parishioner was standing near Marble Arch, on the very spot where the Tyburn gallows once stood, and her eyes travelled across to the Cathedral tower, undreamed of in those Reformation days. On that day, June 28 1654, as the martyr stood waiting his turn, while five others suffered before him, looking up where 'heaven was opening o'er him', he might have smiled at the thought that his remains would, three centuries later, be borne in state to the site of his past labours, and that the faithful would kneel at his shrine to thank God for his constancy and implore his intercession.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Preparations for St John's Day

The Welsh Guards came to help move the feretory of St John Southworth into the middle of the nave, for his feast day tomorrow. As far as I know, this is the first time since he came to the Cathedral in 1930, that his body has been moved. This relic is an indescribably precious treasure of Westminster Cathedral, a wonderful centre of prayer and pilgrimage, and a proud link with the Catholic past of our country.

The shrine is usually in the Chapel of St George and the English martyrs. We considered moving the feretory last year, it proved too heavy for our own maintenance staff. Luckily, Fr Christopher has good army connexions, and called upon the Guards to come to our aid. nnnnnnnnn
The shrine will be decorated with flowers and candles and will remain in the nave until next Monday.

Monday, 25 June 2007

From on High

A splendid image of the nave, take by Simon Lloyd from one of the tiny balconies high inside the domes.

Sunday, 24 June 2007

The Nativity of St John the Baptist

The title of this Feast is specific; the use of the word 'nativity' links it closely with the Nativity of the Lord, and indeed in medieval times this day was known as the 'Midsummer Christmas' (you do the maths), celebrated by bonfires and revelry across the country.

In the Cathedral baptistry stands one of our rare sculptures; a copy of Bertel Thorvaldsen's image of John the Baptist in Copenhagen Cathedral. Thorvaldsen, you may remember, was a neo-Classical Danish sculptor, and is the only Protestant sculptor to boast a work in St Peter's in Rome. I have been told that this version is cast in Cornish tin, although that would seem to me an insufficiently robust medium for such a large work. For a while, in the 1990s, it was removed to stand over the door of nearby St Vincent's convent in Carlisle Place (it doesn't feature in the major recent work on the Cathedral, Building of Faith) but was returned to the Cathedral in the time of my predecessor. nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn
I have not been able to find out why this sculpture is here; it may well be that it arrived in the era of Mgr Wheeler (Administrator 1954 - 1964) or Mgr Bartlett (Administrator 1967 - 1977), both of whom acquired notable artistic works for the Cathedral. However, I suspect that I have seen older photographs featuring the statue, so any information would be welcome!

John the Baptist and Julie Andrews

The Office Hymn for today's Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist has an unexpectedly glamorous history that takes it to Hollywood. Ut queant laxis was written at the end of the 8th century by Paul the Deacon. The first verse translates:

Unloose, great Baptist, our unfettered lips
That with enfranchised voice we may proclaim
The miracles of thy transcendent life,
Thy deeds of matchless fame.

It was noted by Guido of Arezzo, an Italian Monk living at the turn of the eleventh century, that each note commencing a phrase in the hymn begins one note higher than the last. Until that time, there had been no accurate or systematic system for writing down music - and most tunes would have been remembered simply by ear.

So Guido took the Office Hymn of St John, wrote out a stave, and decided to call each note by the initial syllable of the phrases of the hymn, thus:

UT queant laxis REsonare fibris MIra gestorum FAmuli tuorum SOlve pollutis LAbii reatum

Or, ut-re-mi-fa-so-la which (with 'do' replacing 'ut') became the basis of our western music notation, and the eventual cause of Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music!

Saturday, 23 June 2007

Images from the London Chartehouse

Back in May, we visited the London Chartehouse, at the invitation of its gracious Master, and celebrated the first Catholic service there since the Reformation. Reports of the service can be found here. Photographs arrived yesterday, appropriately on the feast of St Thomas More since, of course, he tried his vocation at the Monastery in his youth.

Above, the choristers line up in the cloister, next to the door to a (vanished) cell; this is one part of the monastery that the Reformation Martyrs would have recognized.

The choristers sang Latin Vespers as it would have been sung before the Reformation. The chapel was packed - orginally it was the Chapter House of the Monastery, and has been much altered since.

The site of the chapel is marked in the garden, and a model of the Tyburn gallows was erected on the place where the High Altar would have stood, and where St John Houghton celebrated the famous Mass of the Holy Spirit on the day before he and the chief members of the monastic community were arrested by the King's officers. At that Mass, the rush of wind, and a spiritual ecstasty, brought great comfort to the monks.

A plaque on the wall behind records the names of the 18 martyrs of the London Charterhouse - the only monastic community in England to resist the actions of Henry VIII. From his cell in the Tower of London, St Thomas More saw them being dragged on hurdles to Tyburn, and commented that were like bridegrooms going to their wedding.

Friday, 22 June 2007

Er, not quite ..

The image from the Westminster Cathedral Record, six months after the laying of the Foundation Stone, shows an artist who had not quite grasped the Byzantine idiom. Strange Gothic elements appear, such as the rose window, the crenellations and the turrets, demonstrating just how unfamiliar the Byzantine style still was.

The Westminster Cathedral record was a quarterly periodical, almost wholly devoted to fundraising for the building. Articles include a piece by Cardinal Vaughan, and a list of subscriptions and donations.

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Don't Even Think Of It

Not that you were about to .. However, ahead of the legislation that requires us, along with all other enclosed public spaces, to display no smoking signs, I had yesterday to put these up in the Cathedral.

I had spoken with Anglican Deans about their protest at the requirement for these sings to be displayed in Cathedrals (and indeed all Churches), but the Government is unyeilding. Under pressure from the Church Commissioners it has, however, promised a review within three years.

The fact that nobody thinks of smoking in the Cathedral (or at least, not until these signs went up) bears little weight. Once again, the dull hand of bureaucracy reaches into the life of the Cathedral.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Dome and Campanile

A striking view taken on the Cathedral roof. The domes were coated in copper after repairs in the 1950s, following minor bomb damage in the war.

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Through the Gallery

A snap taken recently through the gallery above the High Altar.

Monday, 18 June 2007

Hough Mass - Corpus Christi

Following the premiere of his Mass on the feast of Corpus Christi, the composer Stephen Hough attended a reception in Clergy House. His Mass setting was universally acclaimed, as spiritual, beautiful and acessible.

The Master of Music, Martin Baker, made a speech of appreciation. Martin always stresses that the Choir of Westminster Cathedral exists not only to sing the glorious historic repertoire of the Church, but also to commission new pieces from prominent composers.

A rare shot of Katrina, Martin's splendid PA, and the organising power behind many events. Katrina will be moving to the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton in the summer, to work as a Pastoral Co-ordinator.

The Chairman of the Friends of Westminster Cathedral, Eddie Brittain, here chats to Fr Michael Durand, both seemingly lost in the mists of contemplation ...

Sunday, 17 June 2007

A Little Piece of Portugal

Moving further up into Clergy House, and following yesterday's posting, here is the garden of our Portuguese sisters, with its cammanding view of the Cathedral apse. The shrubbery provides ample shade and privacy - note the satellite dish, through which the sisters receive television from Portugal.

I recently presented them with a Jasminum Azoricum - Azores Jasmine - a fragrant and familiar plant from their native land.

Saturday, 16 June 2007

Now and Then III

Two identical shots of clergy house, behind the Cathedral; the first dating from 1915, the second taken yesterday. The major difference is the upper storey added to the roof - now the convent of our Portuguese sisters. Another addition is the fire escape, leading up to what is now the sisters' terrace. Perhaps the most embarassing difference is in the general tidiness - the fine garden of 1915 contrasting with the rather miserable collection of pots and tubs (not to mention discarded fireplaces!) that litter the terrace today.

Friday, 15 June 2007

London Byzantine

Early morning light casts the shadow of the chandeliers - modelled on byzantine orginals - across a nave pier.

Thursday, 14 June 2007

The Quarant'Ore

This year's Forty Hours devotion, often known by its Italian name as Quarant'Ore, began last evening with a Mass and procession celebrated by Bishop Hopes.

The Cathedral is open day and night during this period for devotion before the Blessed Sacrament. The Holy Father especially commended this practice in his recent letter on the Eucharist Sacramentum Caritatis. There he said that worship is a natural response to our reception of the Eucharist. Pope Benedict quotes Saint Augustine: “no one eats that flesh without first adoring it; we should sin were we not to adore it." The very act of receiving the Eucharist means adoring Him whom we receive; so our adoration will enhance our reception of, and understanding of, this precious gift.

Celebrating matins at 3.00am this morning, when the above image was taken, was a deeply prayerful experience. About 30 people were present in the Cathedral, and the atmosphere of our prayers and chants rising into the silence of the night, before the Lord present with us in that stillness, was extremely powerful.

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

St Anthony's Shrine

On the Feast of St Anthony of Padua (or, as our Portuguese sisters know him, St Anthony of Lisbon), a view of his shrine in the Cathedral. Deservedly one of the most popular places in the Cathedral, prayer petitions and gifts are regularly left for him. Today, I see, someone has taken the pious custom of 'St Anthony's bread' rather literally and generously donated a loaf of bread!

The statue is the only baroque thing in the Cathedral, and was purchased by Mgr Bartlett, the Administrator who did so much to embellish the Cathedral interior. In the next few months, work will start on the mosaic of St Anthony, which will be installed above the statue, and echo the mosaic of St Francis on the other side of the nave. The designs for both mosaics can be seen here.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Our Man and his Man

Fr Christopher, sub-Administrator, is ably supported by Dominic Wells, who is doing an internship at Clergy House as his PA. Dominic is extremely popular for his efficency, for his thoughtful and intelligent opinions, and for his garish ties.

Monday, 11 June 2007

Bishop Fulton J Sheen

Today being the anniversary of his ordination as a bishop in 1951, the 5.30pm Mass in the Cathedral this evening will be offered for the repose of his soul, and for his cause (introduced in 2002).

Bishop Fulton J Sheen (shown above in the Time Magazine cover for 1952) preached at Westminster Cathedral on Good Friday 1953. He has a few other Westminster diocesan connexions. In the 1920s, he was Philosophy Professor in the diocesan seminary at St Edmund's Ware, when he was a colleague of Mgr Knox. Bishop Sheen was a regular summer supply and preacher at St Patrick's church, Soho. He was also a patron of Tyburn convent, the Benedictine foundation near the site of Tyburn gallows, not far from the Cathedral.