Sunday, 27 January 2008

A short break

I will be away until 7 February, so there will be a break in the blog until then.

St Ambrose

This beautiful study for St Ambrose has been created by the young artist Sandro Kopp, as the basis of a mosaic that (together with St Augustine) will be placed at the entrance to st Paul's chapel. Sandro based the study on near-contemporary mosaics of Ambrose.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

The Cardinal's Lectures

Mark Thompson, Director General of the BBC, is one of the speakers at the Cardinal’s Lectures, when leading public figures will examine ‘Faith and Life in Britain’.

Mark Thompson, Dr. Rowan Williams (Archbishop of Canterbury), William Hague M.P. (The Shadow Foreign Secretary) and Rabbi Julia Neuberger (The Prime Minister’s Champion for Volunteering), are amongst the leading public figures who are to present of six lectures to be held at Westminster Cathedral at 7.00pm on Thursday evenings from 3rd April to 8th May 2008. Admission to the lectures is by free ticket.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor said:
“What is the role of Christianity in a multi-cultural Britain and how can we collaborate with our neighbours of other religions? Are there outstanding examples from history which might illustrate the importance of faith in public life and the role of Parliament? There are many challenges that face religious communities in presenting their message in the secular society and the role of religion in the media is an important aspect of our life today.”

“During Spring 2008, ‘The Cardinal’s Lectures’ will give an opportunity for leading public figures to address these and related issues at Westminster Cathedral. It promises to be a stimulating and provocative series of lectures which will help to illuminate the relationship between faith and life in Britain.”

Details of The Cardinal’s Lectures

Mark Thompson – Director General of the BBC: Faith in the Media. Thursday 10th April 2008.
Dr Rowan Williams – Archbishop of Canterbury: The spiritual and the religious: is the territory changing? Thursday 17th April 2008.
William Hague M.P. – Shadow Foreign Secretary. Practical politics, principled faith. Thursday 24th April 2008.
Rabbi Julia Neuberger – The Prime Minister’s Champion for Volunteering. Faith, morality, giving time to others. Thursday 1st May 2008.
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor – Archbishop of Westminster. Faith in Britain: a personal perspective. Thursday 8th May 2008
The opening lecture, on Thursday 3rd April 2008 will be delivered by a guest speaker whose details will be confirmed immediately prior to the start of the lecture series.

Tickets for ‘The Cardinal’s Lectures’ can be obtained online at, by e-mail to , by phoning 020 7931 6028 or by sending an s.a.e. to Lectures 2008, Vaughan House, 46 Francis Street, London SW1P 1QN.

Friday, 25 January 2008

In the Chapel of St Paul

For the feast of his Conversion, a visit to St Paul's chapel. In the early days of the Cathedral, it was thought that decoration of this chapel might be funded as a think offering by those who, like St Paul, were converts. However, donations were slow. In 1913, Mrs Caroline Sambourne-Palmer offered to pay for the work if the chapel might be made a memorial to her parents, John and Anna-Maria Ansty. This enabled the marbles to be added in 1917. Rather movingly, the white marble of the altar steps is pentellic from Athens, recalling that St Paul preached in that great city.

Above the altar, a triptych of glit bronze shows the saint in high relief bearing a sword, his symbol. This not only recalls the manner of his death, but the power of his preaching - active like a 'two-edged sword'.

As ever, the different styles of mosaics in the Cathedral tell their own story, and signal the era in which they were created. These mosaics date from 1963. Boris Anrep, the celebrated Russian artist, had just completed the mosaics in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, but was now too old to attempt another commission. Instead, he agreed to supervise his pupil and protege, Justin Vulliamy, helping to design the figures, but leaving the final details and execution to the younger artist. In the end, Anrep felt unhappy with the work, and refused to be associated with it.

The scene of the conversion is depicted upon the back wall, with Jerusalem and Damascus depicted, in traditional form, on either side of the scene. The Latin inscription reads SURGE ET INGREDERE CIVITATEM, ET IBI DICETUR TIBI QUID TE OPORTEAT FACERE (Arise and go to the city, and you will be told what to do - Acts 6:9).

The vault of the chapel is depicted as a huge canvas awning - a reminded that Paul, in his earlier life, had been a maker of tents.

The mosaic tesserae were created in Venice, and were fixed in situ by the firm of Zanelli Ltd.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

The College of Chaplains 1995

The college was photographed 0n 29 June 1995, the centenary of the foundation of the Cathedral. We are wearing the summer cappas, and there are a few familiar faces! Notable, also, are two of our Portuguese sisters:
Back Row Left to Right: Sr Anna-Teresa Roper DC, Fr Michael Archer, Fr Shaun Lennard, Fr Thomas Allen, Fr George Lyons, Sr Arcelina, Sr Maria Augusta, Fr Michael Seed SA
Front Row Left to Right: Fr Norman Brown, Fr Philip Whitmore (Precentor), Fr Mark Langham (sub-Administrator), Mgr George Stack (Administrator), Mgr David Norris, Fr Daniel Cronin (Master of Ceremonies), Fr Timothy Dean (Prefect of Sacristy).

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Anything Missing?

The picture above was taken in 1934, when the new mosaics by Gilbert Pownall we installed over the sanctuary. In order the better to see them, Cardinal Bourne ordered the Great Rood be taken down, and placed against the wall at the back of the Cathedral.

The outcry was considerable; the mosaics were considered of inferior quality, and Pownall's designs for the apse dome were abandoned after pressure from the artistic community. The mosaics above the altar remained, but were allowed to become obscured through soot and smoke (as I child, I recall that they were all but invisible). The Rood was, of course, returned to its position over the sanctuary.

Also of interest in this picture: the marble galleries are not yet built, and indeed the Gill Stations can be seen against bare brickwork. On the right side, a temporary pulpit (with sounding board!) has been erected halfway down the nave, overshadowing the smaller original pulpit nearer the sanctuary.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

In the Bleak Midwinter

Lots of rain at the moment - but here are memories of a more picturesque winter. In January 1991 I managed to take these pictures.

Monday, 21 January 2008

A Prayer in the Darkness

An evocative image of candles before the image of Our Lady of Westminster.

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.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

The Royal Seat

The chair and kneeler especially made for Her Majesty the Queen, when she visited the Cathedral in 1995 - the first British Monarch to attend a Roman Catholic Liturgy since the Reformation. It is kept in St George's chapel.

Friday, 18 January 2008

Launching the Cathedral Appeal

We received good Press coverage yesterday and today: the above picture is from this morning's Times newspaper, showing the latest in ecclesiastical headgear!

The London Evening Standard gave us good coverage:

In the Metro, Sr Maria do Ceu (one of our beloved Portuguese sisters) emerged as quite a star!

Indeed, in the Press Association photographs, she was quite the centre of attention.

Fr Archer and Sr Angelina looked rather splendid also! There was also good coverage by the BBC, and the appeal featured on the lunchtime and evening news. The BBC website shows the clip - go to the page below, and then click the item on the right about the Cathedral to see the report:

There is also a page on the BBC website

Ruth Gledhill, religious correspondent of the Times, has a good piece on her blog, here.
Background information can be found on the Independent Catholic News website, here.

A busy time indeed, and some fun was had - but the cause is a serious one, unglamorous but absolutely necessary. It is gratifiying to have received so many messages and dnations already, a mark of how much this great Church is loved.

if you wish to make a donation, you can do so on the Westminster Diocesan Website, here.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

The Cathedral in Crisis

Extensive coverage in the Catholic Press greets the launch of our appeal to raise £3 million to repair the vaults and electrical services of the Cathedral. In 2007, for the first time since the 1950s, we were able to inspect the interior of the domes, as reported here: what we found alarmed us.

Unless action is taken immediately, within a few years we will find ourselves in a situation where we have may have to close some parts of the Cathedral. The Cardinal has headed up the appeal and today's launch, braving the weather to stand on the roof of the Cathedral.

In addition, one hundred years of London smog, nearby bombs from the Luftwaffe, and constant vibrations from traffic, have taken their toll. The mortar that support the brickwork is seriously eroded and cracked.

We need to erect sacaffolding throughut the Cathedral to restore the brickwork, and ensure that it is in good condition for generations to come.

As well as the structural problems, there are issues with the wiring and heating.

These are now ancient, and beyond repair. the sound system frequently breaks down, and is only kept operational by the constant attentions of our electricians.

As well as being unsightly, these are dangerous, and constitute a fire hazard.

You can find out more, and even make a donation, here.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

William Gordon Wheeler

The photograph above (taken in the lower library of Archbishop's House) dates from 1954, when Mgr Wheeler was appointed Administrator of Westminster Cathedral, a post he held until 1964. Previously he had been chaplain to the students of London University. As Administrator, he brought to the Cathedral his considerable aesthetic vision and energy; it was during his time that much of the marble work was advanced, and many treasures were acquired by the Cathedral. In all this he worked closely with the Bartlett family - his close friend, Mgr Francis Bartlett, was to follow him as Administrator in 1967. Mgr Wheeler was a gifted administrator, a notable preacher, and an inspired pastor; it was to be expected that his talents would call him to other duties.

In 1964, after ten years at Westminster Cathedral, he was appointed co-adjutor Bishop of Middlesbrough with right of succession (above), but 1n 1966 became the seventh Bishop of Leeds. He retired in 1985, and died in 1998.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Light on the Staircase

One of the dark staircases behind the apse, leading up to the North Gallery. The hidden parts of the Cathedral are a maze of walkways and passages. Twice a year we lead tours of the 'secret Cathedral', concentrating on these hidden parts.

Monday, 14 January 2008

Even Solomon in all his glory ..

The trees and the crib are taken down today, as we return to ordinary time after the Christmas season. So, a final glimpse at the sanctuary arrayed in its glory, as Fr Slawek celebrated the 10.30 Mass yesterday.

As previously noted, the crib in St Jospeh's chapel will remain until Candlemas.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Tom Phillips in Apollo

The January edition of the Art Collectors' magazine Apollo features the contemporary artist Tom Phillips, and, in particular, his designs for the mosaics in the chapel of St George and the English Martyrs at the Cathedral.

The superb cover and interior photographs of the artist are by Lord Snowdon; above, you can see his designs for the mosaic of Cardinal Newman to be installed next year. The article begins:

"Tom Phillips is frequently described as a polymath and an 'intellectual' artist, a Magus-like figure who juggles dozens if different schemes, all of them feeding off one another and intimately connected with the man himself... As well as graphic and calligraphic images with their roots in pop art, there are old-Masterly portraits. He composes and writes about music, curates exhibitions, designs coins for the Royal Mint, knows all about African Art and delivered the Slade lectures in 2006. Recently he has also been absorbed in a series of designs for new mosaics for a chapel in England's premier Roman Catholic place of worship, Westminster Cathedral."

Above, an impression of the completed chapel. The article notes:

"Several of the artists who preceded him chose to design in a neo-Byzantine idiom complementing the building's architecture, but he finds such pastiche antipathetic. 'It's not a Byzantine church, it's a Victorian church. I really disapprove of that.'"

The article continues: "Designing for the chapel cannot have been easy because this little space already enshrines a great deal of art, emotion and polemic, an altarpiece by Eric Gill, polychrome marble, and a memorial to Catholics killed in World War I. He concedes that it wasn't straightforward, 'I went quite often to the cathedral, and sat there and thought, "What would be right? What was it all about, these martyrs?" And they were sparks of faith spanning a dark period, and that was in fact what I did.'"

"While the saints' names take flight across the ceiling on little tongues of lambent flame, St George is represented by a frieze of dragon's scales (below), and his red cross."

".. Westminster Cathedral has provided Phillips with a strong sense of purpose and fulfilment; it is, he says, really what he would be content to do for the rest of his life."

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Bishop Richard Challoner

Today is the anniversary of the death of Bishop Richard Challoner, who is buried in the Cathedral, and who is one of the (largely unsung) heroes of English Catholicism. I posted about him last year here, and have also posted about his American connexion, but thought I would take this opportunity to show the fine portrait of him that hangs in Archbishop's House. This portrait was previously in the dining room of Clergy House.

Bishop Challoner helped keep alive the flickering flame of catholic faith at a time when its morale was lowest; direct persecution of Catholics had ceased, but heavy fines and social opprobrium were still faced by those faithful to the old religion. Apart from the Embassy chapels of Catholic countries, the Bishop still had to say Mass in secret in London, in places such as the Ship Tavern in Holborn - the plaque above on the pub records the fact, and makes it clear that the setting was less than salubrious.

Bishop Challoner was buried at Milton in Berkshire, but his remains were transferred to the Cathedral in 1946. At that time, Cardinal Griffin wrote:

"During his lifetime and after his death, he was considered not only as a model of every virtue but as a saint. Indeed the title accorded to him by the faithful was that of 'Venerable'. We must pray that our Blessed Lord, through the Holy Father, may reward the loyalty and devotion of this great bishop, by raising him to the altars of the Church."

The Cardinal approved this prayer for the beatification of Bishop Challoner:

O God who made your servant Richard a true and faithful pastor of your little flock in England, raise him, we beseech you, to the altars of thy Church, that we who have been taught by his word and example may invoke his name in heaven, for the return of our country to belief in the Gospel, and to the unity of all Christians in the one Chruch of Jesus Christ. We ask this through the same Christ our Lord.

Friday, 11 January 2008

Centenary Congress Mass 1950

High Mass in the cathedral to celebrate the centenary of the re-establishment of the Catholic Hierarchy in England and Wales. Archbishop Godfrey (later to be Archbishop of Westminster) was the Apostolic Delegate to great Britain, and here he is being officially received. On the right are four visiting Cardinals: Cardinal van Roey (Archbishop of Malines), Cardinal Gerlier (Archbishop of Lyons), Cardinal McGuigan (Archbishop of Toronto) and Cardinal von Preysing (Bishop of Berlin).

It looks to me as though the server behind Archbishop Godfrey is caught in a huge yawn!

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Measuring up to St Peter

Our Cathedral receives its honourable mention on the nave floor of St Peter's Basilica in Rome, where its length is listed as 110 metres - interestingly enough, just a hair's breath longer than Haghia Sophia, mentioned next to it. Which provides a good excuse to show the mosaic of said Haghia Sophia from St Andrew's Chapel - recording the legend that St Andrew was first bishop of Constantinople (or Byzantium, as it was called in his day). It's a fine design of the Great Church and the imperial city (for more information, cf here and here).

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

The Tympanum

Completed in 1916, the Tympanum is a key feature of the Cathedral facade. The detail of a photograph below from 1908 shows the entrance before the mosaic was added.

The completed mosaic is based on a pencil sketch by the Cathedral architect, John Francis Bentley (below) - a unique example of his designing mosaic decoration. In the orginal drawing, Christ is enthroned, displaying his wounds ( a reference to the dedication of the Cathedral to the Precious Blood), while around him the other saints to whom the Cathedral is dedicated: St Peter (patron of Westminster) , Our Lady, St Joseph and St Edward the Confessor.

Bentley's design was later worked up by his successor as Architect, William Marshall, and the image below appeared in the Westminster Cathedral Chronicle of 1907. This was more sumptuous than Bentley's original drawing. However, the mosaic was not executed until 1916.

The artist was Robert Anning Bell, and it is said that Cardinal Bourne was disappointed with the result; he beleived that Bell had paid little attention to his views and had departed from Bentley's design. In the work as executed, the composition is simplified and austere, and Christ's wounds are not visible. Instead he holds a book bearing the words 'I am the gate; if anyone enters by me he shall be saved.' (John 10:9) - a new theme unrelated to the dedicatory inscription in Latin above.

There was much comment at the time that the background should be gold (an opinion with which I agree); however, it was explained that a white background would better relate the image to the colouring of the facade, and that gold on a flat surface would not reflect light as it would on a concave recess (as at San Marco's in Venice). It was also believed that a starker design would stand more chance of surviving the London grime and smogs.

It is said that Cardinal Bourne remained unconvinced by the executed design, believing that Anning Bell (who was a non-Conformist) had been unable to comprehend properly Catholic iconography. Henceforth, the Cardinal resolved, only Catholic artists would be commissioned.