Tuesday, 31 July 2007

At Long Last

At last, after a horrendous month, the sun, and the Cathedral basks in unwonted light!

Sunday, 29 July 2007

Bishop Challoner and the Colonial Church

A posting in honour of two priests from New York I met in the Piazza after Mass last evening. Although Westminster Cathedral receives very many American visitors, it has only one formal connexion with America, in the person of Bishop Richard Challoner, buried in St Gregory's chapel.

In the eighteenth century, before the restoration of the hierarchy and the dioceses of England and Wales, the Vicar Apostolic of the London region exercised jurisdiction in the British colonies in North America and the West Indies. In British North America, Catholics formed a tiny and persecuted minority – only about 1% of the population. They lived almost entirely in Maryland and Pennsylvania, with a few in Virginia and New Jersey.

Bishop Challoner give faculties and dispensations to the small number of English Jesuits who worked in the American colonies. Because of his responsibilities in England, he was never able to visit personally, but when in 1756 Rome suggested appointing a Vicar Apostolic resident in North America, Challoner warned that such a move ‘might give offence to the governing part there.’

He reported that the ‘Jesuits, holding faculties from us in Maryland and Pennsylvania, conduct the missions there in a very laudable manner.’ In 1771 again, he warned against moves to create a Bishop in North America, for fear of antagonising the authorities.

In 1784, following the American Revolution, the Vatican authorities removed the jurisdiction of the North American Church from the Vicar Apostolic of London, and established a hierarchy in the United States. In 1789 John Carroll, a former spiritual subject of Bishop Challoner, was appointed Bishop of Baltimore - the first Catholic Bishop of the United States. and Wales,

Saturday, 28 July 2007

Farewell Katrina

For the past year, Katrina Avery has served as PA to the Master of Music, and Administrator of the Music Department. Her skills and common sense have supported the talents of our musicians, and enormously aided the efficient running of the department. Katrina leaves us to take up a post as Pastoral Director in the diocese of Arundel and Brighton.

We held a small reception for her in the Common Room yesterday morning, with gifts both sacred and secular! We will miss her greatly, and wish her well in her exciting new position.

Comings and Growings

Sister Bridget turned up in my office yesterday morning, proudly wielding her first tomato, grown in her small garden by the front door of Clergy House. Is this the beginning of our salad days ..?

Friday, 27 July 2007

A Covering of Gold

An unusual image of the underside of the Baldacchino, with its exotic carpet of golden mosaic.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Spot the Difference

The missing pillar: Mgr Collingwood (Administrator 1947 - 1954) had the central pillar near the Blessed Sacrament Chapel removed because it got in the way of processions. It was later removed and restored; the photograph below shows the scene today.

The fragments of Mgr Collingwood's design are now ignominiously stacked by the back fire escape of the Clergy House.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

The Complete Picture

I received an interesting comment from a reader about the plans for the continuing mosaic decoration of the Cathedral - reflecting questions that we receive every week from visitors about the unfinished state of the mosaics, and the dark and empty vaults (below).

We are committed to continuing the plan of our founders, Cardinal Vaughan and Francis Bentley, to continue the decoration of the Cathedral. It is unlikely in the extreme that it will be completed in our lifetimes, but our generation is contributing to the programme, and doing our part in taking the vision forward. Last year, we realised a full theological plan for the mosaics, which I will post later in the summer. We have on display in the Nave an artist's impression of the completed designs (below). This picture, which seems to dates from the 1930s or 1940s, is non-specific, and does not attempt to indicate what should go where.

An older version is show here, rather crowded and over-busy, and obviously drawn before the apse and baldacchino were established in their final form. Note, however, the arch above the sanctuary (indicated in blue) which is complete.

Note the images of the apostles (coloured) on the piers of the nave. This is good Byzantine practice, symbolizing the apostles as pillars of the Church. Perhaps there was a missed opportunity when the spaces on the piers were instead filled with marble panels (below).

In terms of fundraising, however, the mosaics can never be my primary concern. The Cathedral has more pressing needs - to pay its way each year, to build up a reserve for emergencies, and to undertake urgent repairs. However, it is my hope that we can make more people aware of the on-going mosaic decoration. We have some exciting projects in hand, about which I shall report soon. So who knows - one day we may rival San Marco's itself!

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Fr Tom Allan 1926 - 2007

We heard on Sunday morning of the death of Fr Tom Allan, who was a Cathedral Chaplain from 1991 to 1997. Fr Tom was born in Edinburgh on 9 May 1926, and in many ways remained a spiritual son of that city. He attended school at St Andrew’s priory, and the junior seminary at Blairs College. In 1954 he went up to Edinburgh University to study English, and for most of his adult life he taught English literature – a subject always close to his heart. He married and had two sons, Dominic and Michael.

He had always retained a love of the cloister, and following the death of his wife, considered joining the community at Turvey. However, he was deeply influenced by Cardinal Hume, and was accepted by him to train for the diocese of Westminster. Tom was ordained at Allen Hall in October 1988 at the age of 62, and was posted to Our Lady of Grace, Chiswick, as assistant priest. In 1991, he moved to St Vincent de Paul, Osterley. It became clear that his health required a different setting for his ministry, and the Administrator of the Cathedral, Mgr Patrick O’Donoghue, invited him to join the Cathedral staff.

Tom moved to the Cathedral in 1991, where he lived until 1997. The picture above shows him (centre back row) with the College of Chaplains at the time of the Cathedral centenary in 1995. Sadly, his own failing health, and concerns about the health of his son Dominic, dictated a return to Edinburgh. There, Tom bravely coped with Dominic’s death, and his own deteriorating condition. In recent years, he was cared for by the Little Sisters of the Poor in Edinburgh, where he was able to celebrate Mass and benefit from the loving care of the Sisters, and where Cardinal O’Brien visited him. He died on Sunday 22 July, and is survived by his son Michael.

He is warmly remembered at the Cathedral for his wit and wide learning; many people have compared him to the novelist Alexander McCall Smith for his gentle humour, wistful philosophy and encyclopaedic knowledge. He was never seen without a novel under his arm, and his spectacles perched on the end of his nose. His delightful conversation was always thoughtful and generous. Fr Tom was an engaging preacher; leaning across the pulpit, waving his glasses in one hand, his gentle Scottish accent and affable manner invariably wooed the congregation. His great height, vast learning, and monastic vestments earned him the affectionate nick-name of ‘God’ from the Cathedral choristers!

Fr Tom had a deep spirituality, profoundly imbued with Benedictine values. He was a frequent visitor to Turvey Abbey, and was much in demand at the Cathedral for days of recollection, and as a chaplain to many groups. His wisdom, formed through long experience and wide spiritual reading, was teamed with a warm affection for human nature. He was a generous confessor, and a sensitive observer of the human condition. He will be missed greatly by the Cathedral community, and by those many people who benefited from his wisdom and holiness.

May he rest in peace.

Monday, 23 July 2007

A Great Cathedral Friend

Earlier this month, we said farewell to John Gibbs, who has been Diocesan Financial Secretary for 21 years. With the Diocesan finances currently in good shape, it is easy to forget the critical situation that greeted John when he took up his post. More than £10 million of debt was turned around, and new financial systems put in place that ensured a more secure future.

John has been a good friend to the Cathedral, and an invaluable source of advice. Twenty years ago, the Cathedral finances were run like a small parish, and treasures were in danger of being sold to meet the ever increasing defecit. There was no finance committee, no budgeting or accounts, and no strategy.

With John's expertise and close personal involvement, the Cathedral is now on a steady financial footing, and we have the structures and information to be able to plan for the future. John also has been a close friend, often popping into my office to see how things have been going, or ready to offer advice in a crisis. Upon his retirement I, and many others, will miss him greatly.

Sunday, 22 July 2007

The Mosaics of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel

The light was good this morning, and so I was drawn to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, where the morning sun is especially generous to the delicate mosaics.

At the back of the chapel, over the arch, Abram entertains the three heavenly visitors. The scene, which is the subject of the first reading at Mass today, is here given a Eucharistic emphasis.

Following the example of the ancient basilicas of Rome, the founders of Westminster Cathedral housed the Blessed Sacrament in a separate chapel. At all times of day, visitors are to be seen there in prayer, and exposition takes place on Monday afternoons and evenings.

The mosaics in the chapel were designed as a meditation upon its special purpose. Cardinal Griffin (Archbishop of Westminster 1943 - 1956) had been impressed by an earlier mosaic of St Oliver Plunkett in the Cathedral executed by the Russian artist Boris Anrep (above). Born in St Petersburg, Anrep settled in Paris in 1908, and travelled to London in 1916. His mosaic work was held in high regard, and he designed mosaics for (among other locations) the National Gallery and Tate Gallery. The Administrator, Mgr Gordon Wheeler, approached him, and Anrep's designs were enthusiastically accepted by the Cathedral's art committee in 1956.

Anrep's Russian origins add an authenticity to his icon-inspired designs. Instead of the more usual gold background, the unifying colour here is a rose-pink, modified with other pastel hues. In the Russian tradition, this colour speaks of serenity, while it also clearly draws upon the tones of the existing marble decoration.

The many scenes are based on biblical landmarks that lead from Abel to Christ, and which prefigure the Eucharist.

At the entrance to the chapel, two heavenly spirits stand guard; the Archangels Michael and Gabriel. Between them is a three-domed church and a chalice, symbol both of the Trinity and the Eucharist.

The mosaics were unveiled in 1962, and are a vigorous exposition of Eucharistic theology. They partake of the era in which they were created, underlining the importance of the use of diverse artists and styles in the mosaic decoration of the Cathedral.

Saturday, 21 July 2007

A Very British Summer

Yesterday, we were to hold a barbeque for staff and residents. Instead, at mid-day, it was so dark that the street lighting came on.

The heavens opened, and the torrential downpour was even greater than that of a few days ago, noted here !

The drains and downpipes could not cope with the amount of water that was suddenly pouring down.

Flooding inevitably occurred, including a serious situation in the Cathedral Hall. We are concerned lest the water have soaked the wood-block flooring, causing it to warp as it dries.

Friday, 20 July 2007

An Old View

An old coloured postcard of the Cathedral, pre-1930. Note that the road runs in front of the West Door (indeed, quite a road junction!). The tympanum over the door is not yet in place. The image gives a grand impression of a cascade of domes and turrets.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Early Morning Reflection

Dawn breaks on the Cathedral campanile, reflected in the glass of the Army & Navy Store (or as we must now learn to call it, the 'House of Fraser'). A brief pause, however, in the rain, with more heavy downpours forecast for today and tomorrow - with a Garden Party and a Barbeque in danger!

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

July Publications

Just arrived on my desk is this handsome volume, produced by two Westminster Diocesan priests, Fr Gerard Skinner and Fr Nicholas Schofield. Fr Nicholas runs a celebrated blog, and writes about publication of his book here.

As well as an authoritative text, many of the pictures in the book have not been seen before, including this superb plate of a Cardinal's galero resting upon the High Altar of the Cathedral. The scope of the book encompasses not just English-born prelates, but several exotic Italians who held English sees. The authors are to be congratulated on a painstakingly researched and very readable book. The English Cardinals is widely on sale - and can be obtained from the Cathedral gift shop.

There is, of course, a fine chapter on my namesake, Cardinal Simon Langham (Fr Skinner had assured me he would receive maximum attention!). Cardinal Langham features also in the July/August bumper edition of Oremus, the Cathedral magazine.

As well as many items of interest about the Cathedral, and its history, this summer edition recalls my own travels in search of my namesake, which took me from Ely to Avignon, and finally down the road to Westminster Abbey.

Cardinal Langham's tomb is the oldest figurative effigy in the Abbey (below), and has survived the ravages of time. He deserves a posting to himself, so more later!

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Farewell to John Browne

It is not only the choristers whom we shall miss. John Browne, headmaster of the Choir School for the last four years, is leaving to take up an important post at Ampleforth school in Yorkshire. Here he is, pictured in the choir school refectory.

John first came to the Cathedral 17 years ago (when I too first came as a new chaplain!) as Organ Scholar, and effected the transition to House Master at the school. Thence, his career lay in teaching. He has worked hard to raise the profile of the school and has made it the Catholic prep school of choice in London.

Monday, 16 July 2007

Rorate Coeli Desuper

A torrential downpour yesterday afternoon turned our downpipes into gushing fountains. Flooding inevitably occurred in the Cathedral Hall, Tower Lift gallery and school playground. The weather continues humid and wet, more swampy than summer!

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Choristers' Farewell

Our seemingly endless round of parties continued yesterday with tea on the terrace for the leaving choristers - an event which has become something of a tradition. Above, they are pictured with deacon Edward Houghton, House Master Tom Hall, Fr Tim Dean, and organ scholar Simon Lloyd.

Fr Tim looked as though he had become detached from a pilgrimage to somewhere in Peru ...

The choristers have lived at the choir school for four years, singing Mass daily, rehearing singing and musical instruments, as well as their usual studies. Today, they sing Mass and Vespers for the last time - usually a tearful occasion. They are permitted to choose the music for Mass.

We are extremely proud of our choristers, and know that, as they move to their new schools, they will be fine ambassadors for the Cathedral.