Monday, 31 December 2007

The Cathedral Cribs

An old picture from 1928 of the new Crib placed in St Paul's chapel. The Cathedral Chronicle of that year gives some background:

"For the past two years there has been a change in the arrangements for the crib at the Cathedral. Formerly, the crib was always in the transept outside the Lady Chapel. When the new confessionals were built into the wall of that transept, there was no longer any place to put the crib. Following the custom of one of the Roman churches, His Eminence (Cardinal Bourne) decided to place the crib behind and above St Paul's altar, and for the past two years there it has been. It has now been decided to make that a permanent arrangement for the Cathedral. This year, new figures have been made by Mr Lindsay Clarke ..

.. The crib is a work of the highest artisitic merit, and is the result of the collaboration of three artists. The shrine in which the group was placed was designed by Mr L. H. Shattock A.R.I.B.A., the architect of the Cathedral. The group itself is the work of Mr Philip Lindsay Clarke D.S.O., A.R.B.S., and the colouring was done by Mr A.C. M. Chalmers."

While that great crib still makes a yearly appearance, it is now placed on the main sanctuary, where it makes a magnificent and prayerful backdrop to the Christmas liturgies. However, we keep alive the custom of a crib in a side chapel - perhaps more appropriately, the location is now St Joseph's chapel.

As a mark of changing times, this year we showed directions to the chapel with the following sign at the back of the Cathedral - which was much appreciated:

عيد الميلاد سرير

Sunday, 30 December 2007

Feast of the Holy Family

Marking today's feast, some of the beautiful images taken by Marcin Mazur of the great crib at the High Altar.

Saturday, 29 December 2007

The Feast of St Thomas

In my earlier days as a seminarian in Rome, we still kept the feast of St Thomas in the College Church that bears his dedication. This used to be the only English Feast kept universally, an indeed there are late medieval records of the College of Cardinals visiting the English Hospice (as it then was) to keep this Feast.

It is a joy, therefore, to be able to keep this most English of feasts at the Cathedral in the chapel dedicated to him, and decorated with mosaics completed in 2005.

The west wall depicts the martyrdom of St Thomas in Canterbury Cathedral on 29 December 1170. The mosaic designer, Christopher Hobbs, has included a bear on the shield of one of them - a reference to his name 'Fitz-Urse'.

The vault of the chapel depicts St Thomas' flight to France by sea - the surrounding decorations recall medieval manuscripts.

We also had his relics on display; we have a good selection.

New Lighting

I am exceedingly delighted that the change-over of light bulbs was completed in time for Christmas. The new energy saving bulbs are spherical, and fit perfectly into the design of the chandeliers.

Christmas Harvest

I was able to pick tangerines from the terrace on Christmas Day, and serve them to the brethren. Although the fruit is small, it is still a remarkable achievement; as Dr Johnson said of a dog walking on its back legs, "It's not that it's done well, but that it's done at all ...!"

Friday, 28 December 2007

Ivan Kightley RIP

Sad news reached us this morning of the death of Ivan Kightley, on St Stephen's Day. Ivan was a gentle and much loved member of the Cathedral parish, and a tireless volunteer. For many years he worked on Oremus, the Cathedral magazine, and despite illness was working on the current issue.

I last saw him a few days before Christmas, to tell him that he had been awarded the Diocesan Medal for his services to the Cathedral - the certificate is above, and below, the medal he would have been awarded in the Cathedral on the Feast of the Epiphany. Please pray for this gentle, holy and dedicated man, that he enjoy the reward of his labours, in the presence of the Lord whom he so faithfully served.

Thursday, 27 December 2007

Sister Mericia's Christmas Cake

Sister Mericia has again worked wonders, and graced our Christmas table with this wonderful confection. The problem is that nobody dares to eat it!

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Christmas Night in Clergy House

The Clergy House dining room looks stunning as we prepare for Christmas Dinner; because of the schedule, our Dinner is held in the evening - a wonderful way to finish the great day.

We are able to use some impressive candelabra, and the long table is set. The Cardinal will join the clergy for the meal this evening.

Our dear sisters are preparing in the kitchen: here Sister Angelina is helped by Marinha.

With the lights dimmed, and the candles lighted, it is truly a magical atmosphere.

It is a privilege to be able to celebrate together as chaplains. After the hard work done by all, this will be a time to savour.

In the aftermath of the meal, collapse of stout parties in the Common Room! Mgr Brady (Secretary to the Nuncio) in the middle seems well content ..

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

The Blessing of Christmas

The images from the great crib provide enough material for a lifetime's meditation. From all of us at the Cathedral, a blessed and peaceful Christmas to you all.

Midnight Mass - the Strepitus

Taking part myself in Midnight Mass, the best I could do was these shots from the pulpit, taken straight after the Christmas Proclamation. In a moment of eye-blinking drama, the lights of the Cathedral burst into life, the organ thunders, and the young altar servers ring bells (the strepitus) to herald the joy of our Saviour's birth. The eagle-eyed among you will notice the pendants on the metropolitan cross!

The Vigil and Midnight Mass were carried live by BBC radio 4; you can listen to it again here (it is mistakenly headed Sunday 24 December!) follow the link to Radio 4, and scroll down to Midnight Mass. The Proclamation, by the way, is 27 mins 55 seconds in!

Monday, 24 December 2007

First Mass of Christmas

We had a packed Cathedral for the first Mass of Christmas at 6.00pm - traditionally a family Mass.

The signs are that we are heading for a busy Christmas!

The Most Beautiful ..

This was in the Daily Telegraph, this morning ..

O Presépio

Our beloved Portuguese Sisters have created their usual extravaganza in the convent; it has a beautiful, homely feel to it.

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Cardinal Manning's Cope

The sacristans set out Cardinal Manning's Cope for Solemn Vespers and Benediction this afternoon. It is a wonderful vestment, and I had Fr Slawek (our equally wonderful chaplain) model it after the service.

It bears the Cardinal's bold motto: Malo Mori Quam Foedari (I prefer to die rather than to be compromised), and is in extremely good condition. The fabric is purple silk with gold thread, embroidered on the hood and orphrey in raised and padded work - it is late 19th century, and probably Italian.

Our records maintain that this cope was one of those worn by Cardinal Manning when he attended the First Vatican Council between 8 December 1869 and 1 December 1870.

Cardinal Henry Edward Manning (1808 - 1892) was second Archbishop of Westminster and (to my mind) the greatest, deserving comparison with his contemporary Cardinal Newman. It was a thrill to wear this vestment, connected to such a great prelate.

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Bishop John Arnold celebrates the Solemn Mass of the Fourth Sunday of Advent.

The Cardinal's Ear-Rings

.. or, to be more precise, the pendants of the Cardinal's Metropolitan Cross. For years, the Metropolitan Cross that is used for Pontifical Ceremonies at the Cathedral has looked like this:

The cross is a fine work, given by the Catholic Women's league to Archbishop Francis Bourne on the occasion of his elevation to the Cardinalate in November 1911. The cross was executed by Messrs Blunt and Wray, according to the design of J. B. Marshall, and was formally presented to the Cardinal in January 1912.

The cross and stem are entirely of silver, applied to a wooden core. Its height is 6 feet 6 inches, and the width across the arms 1 foot 6 inches. The figure of Our Lord at the centre is surrounded by an aureola of clouding and cherubs. Within the aureola the sun, moon and stars are represented on a blue enamelled ground. The general ground of the cross is everywhere covered with delicate ornament, and richly studded with natural moonstones, amethysts and garnets. However, looking at photographs of the cross taken in 1913, it was clear that something was missing ..

The two pendants, with the greek letters Alpha and Omega, were novel features, although not without precedent in Byzantine work.

However, there was no trace of the pendants, and it was presumed that they had been damaged, lost - or worse - sold at some stage. The photograph below shows the back of the cross, with the enamelled arms of S. Edmund of Canterbury, S. Francis de Sales, H. E. Cardinal Bourne, and the See of Westminster - plus the pendants.

Earlier this year, the pendants were located in an unmarked box in the vaults; they were tarnished, and some of the stones were missing. We have had them restored by the silversmiths Pruden and Smith of Ditchling; appropriately founded by Dunstan Pruden, an associate of Eric Gill.

The pendants look splendid, and will be restored to the Metropolitan Cross for Midnight Mass.

Saturday, 22 December 2007

The Sacrament of God's Forgiveness

In the fortnight before Christmas the numbers for daily confessions rises sharply, and we have had three confessors on duty each day from 9.00am - 6.30pm. This is one of the glories of Westminster Cathedral; for all its other proud achievements, the fact that the Sacrament of God's forgiveness is available every day, all day, is one of the most important. The Chaplains work hard to provide the hours, and we are greatly helped by visiting priests and even - at this time - by the auxiliary bishops and the Cardinal himself.

If the numbers of confessions have fallen in parishes, our own experience is that the need and desire for the Sacrament is undiminished. Above, the queue stretches down the south aisle of the Cathedral, and will remain so most of the day; perhaps the anonymity that the Cathedral affords is what draws so many people here. It is certainly beautiful that, at this time, so many people seek to prepare themselves spiritually to receive their Lord at Christmas.

Friday, 21 December 2007

The Christmas Celebration

Last evening we held the Christmas Celebration. This lovely occasion is one of the highlights of the Cathedral year, when we anticipate the joy of Christmas in music and words.

The concert is always a sell-out, and small wonder. The Cathedral looks beautiful, and the choir is at its best, joined for the evening by an orchestra.

Although vastly experienced, the Lay Clerks can never take anything for granted, and hours of rehearsal goes into this performance.

For Martin Baker, the Master of Music the evening is a tense occasion, as he has to bring together the many different strands. It was, however, a triumph.

There are many people who contribute to the evening's success. Below, our 'A' team of servers - Michael, Nick and Francis. Not pictured is Paul Moynihan, who superbly acted as Master of Ceremonies.

Our dear Portuguese sisters were present, braving the none-too-warm Cathedral to get their seats early