I lived in London for a couple of months years ago and got to explore more than just the usual main tourist spots of this bustling city. It took me quite a while to get used to the wet and cold weather of London so I ended up dressing in thick layers even at the start of autumn. Walking through London on one of these cold windy autumn mornings I took refuge from the icy wind in what turned out to be a hidden gem.
The red and white striped brick and stone Westminster Cathedral stood out against the clear blue sky and looked very inviting.
Westminster Cathedral in London is the mother church of the Catholic community in England and Wales and is dedicated to the “Most Precious Blood of Jesus Christ”.
It hardly appears on any tourist pamphlets and I wonder why not as this is definitely an amazing Cathedral. Throughout the exterior, the lavish introduction of white stone bands in connection with the red brickwork produces an impression quite foreign to the British eye.
John Betjeman called it “a masterpiece in striped brick and stone in an intricate pattern of bonding, the domes being all-brick in order to prove that the good craftsman has no need of steel or concrete.”
Entering through the elaborately decorated archway I was definitely not disappointed by the interior. The main structural parts of the building are of brick and concrete, the latter material being used for the vaulting and domes of graduated thickness and complicated curve.
Following Byzantine tradition, the interior was decorated with marble and mosaic. The chandeliers are low hanging with their soft light reflected off the gold in the mosaic that covers most of the small chapels along the nave.
The chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, on the north side of the sanctuary is enclosed with bronze grilles and gates through which people may enter. The Blessed Sacrament chapel is dedicated to the Blessed Mother with a small baldacchino is suspended from the vault.
In the Lady Chapel on the south side of the sanctuary the walls are clad in marble and the altar reredos is a mosaic of the Virgin and Child, surrounded by a white marble frame. The conches of the chapel contain predominantly blue mosaics of the Old Testament prophets Daniel, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel.
The chapel of Saints Gregory and Augustine is next the baptistery, from which it is separated by an open screen of marble, is roofed with simple barrel vaulting and contains vibrant mosaics.
The chapel of the Holy Souls employs a more subdued, almost funereal style, decoration with late Victorian on a background of silver.
The Cathedral was quite empty, probably what you could expect on a cold weekday morning but this created a very peaceful atmosphere. I got to walk through this quiet Cathedral and admired the gold icons and elaborate decorations of the different small chapels inside.
Unlike in a Gothic Cathedral at Westminster the narrow butresses and arcading vaulting is limited to the interior and specifically the nave of the Cathedral.
The quiet Cathedral had such a tranquil atmosphere, the perfect place to sit down and just meditate for a while. Maybe I was also quite reluctant to exit into the icy autumn wind of London again.