Westminster Cathedral, seat of the Archbishop of Westminster, is the main Roman Catholic cathedral in Great Britain. Only the Cathedral of Christ the King in Liverpool rivals its size. Built in 1903, the attractive red-brick building has the Byzantine style on a basilica plan and is topped by four domes. Its most striking feature, at least from the outside, is the 284 ft high campanile, St. Edward’s Tower.
At 150 ft including the aisles, the Nave of Westminster Cathedral is the widest in England. It is also decorative and consists of variegated marbles on the lower parts of the walls and mosaics on the upper parts and domes. On the main piers are the Stations of the Cross carved by Eric Gill. The galleries over the aisles are supported by marble pillars from the same quarries that supplied the stone for the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. The capitals, all different, are in white Carrara marble. The large cross hanging from the east side of the Nave is 30 feet tall, with painted figures of Christ and (on the back) the Mater Dolorosa.
Read also: Highly Rated Churches in Rome
South Aisle Chapel
To the south, the chapel of St Paul with its fine mosaic pavement is based on a design by the Cosmati. The Chapel of St Andrew and the Saints of Scotland has bas-relief figures of Saints Andrew, Ninian, Columba, Margaret and Bride. Next comes the Chapel of St Patrick and the Saints of Ireland, suitably decorated in Irish marble. It also contains the badges of Irish regiments that fought in WWI, and next to the altar is a casket with a plaque of honor dedicated to the 50,000 Irish who fell in the war. The marble pavement is in the shape of a Celtic cross. The adjoining Chapel of Saints Gregory and Augustine is most notable for its altar mosaics depicting England’s conversion to Christianity.
North Aisle Chapel
Along the north corridor is the Chapel of the Holy Souls with its beautiful mosaics of scenes from the Old and New Testaments. Next to this is St George’s Chapel, with a statue of the saint and the grave of John Southwark, the “parish priest of Westminster” hanged at Tyburn in 1654. The third chapel is the chapel of St Joseph, with the grave of Cardinal Hinsley (d 1943 ) and beautiful marble mosaics.
The north transept
In the North Transept are a beautiful mosaic of Joan of Arc and the Chapel of St Thomas of Canterbury – also known as the Vaughan Chantry – and a fine statue of Cardinal Vaughan, who presided over the building of the cathedral. The small Chapel of the Sacred Heart and Saint Michael is decorated with Greek and Carrara marble. Next to it is the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, with ornate mosaic decoration by Boris Anrep.
Stairs lead to the crypt (St Peter’s Chapel), which contains a collection of precious relics, including a mitre that belonged to St Thomas Beckettand fragments of the True Cross. Adjacent is the small chapel of St Edmund containing the tombs of bishops and cardinals, as well as a very fine white marble pulpit.
At the entrance to Westminster Cathedral are two columns of red Norwegian granite that symbolize the precious blood of Christ to which the cathedral is dedicated. In the left column is a bronze statue of Saint Peter, a copy of the famous statue in St. Peter’s Church in Rome.
In the southwest corner of Westminster Cathedral is the Baptistery, with an altar commemorating members of the Canadian Air Force who died in World War II. The font is a copy of the one in San Vitale, Ravenna.
The High Altar and the Lady Chapel
The High Altar of Westminster Cathedral, located in the Sanctuary, has a marble canopy supported on columns. To the right of the Sanctuary is the Lady Chapel, the first of the chapels to be completed and also decorated with very fine mosaics.
Beautiful view: St Edward’s Tower
An elevator will take you to the Viewing Gallery atop St. Edward’s Tower where you will experience some of London’s best views from a height of 210ft. The Viewing Gallery and elevator lobby feature artwork that illustrates the cathedral’s design and heritage.
The Treasures of Westminster Cathedral
This interesting exhibition, which houses some of Westminster Cathedral’s most valuable objects, displays rare ecclesiastical objects, vestments, chalices and sacred relics. Of particular note is the model of the cathedral, widely regarded as one of the greatest architectural models in Britain.
In Tune: organ recitals and festivals
Westminster Cathedral offers a variety of regular organ recitals most Sundays at 4:45 PM. Lasting 30 minutes, these excellent events are free. Also important is the annual Westminster Cathedral Grand Organ Festivala series of concerts that take place once a month from April to November featuring many of the best organists in the UK and Europe.
Touring Westminster Cathedral
No formal guided tours are available, although much information about the cathedral is available on its website, including a helpful virtual tour. Other resources such as manuals and books are available from the Gift Shop.
Tips and tactics: How to make the most of your visit to Westminster Cathedral
The following tips and tactics will help you get the most out of your Westminster Cathedral experience:
- Events: Westminster Cathedral hosts numerous musical and religious events and festivals throughout the year, so be sure to check their website before your visit.
- Shopping: The Gift Shop stocks books and music related to the cathedral (most items are also available online).
- Services: The public is welcome to attend mass and other regular services.
Getting to Westminster Cathedral
- By subway (subway): The nearest tube station is Victoria (Victoria, District and Circle lines).
- By train: The nearest train station is Victoria. Visit www.nationalrail.co.uk for more information on links to London from around the country.
- With the bus: The following Victoria Street buses stop in front of Westminster Cathedral: 11, 24, 148, 507 and 211.
- On the road: Westminster Cathedral’s location in the heart of London makes driving a little challenging. It is also within the Congestion Charge zone, which means you will be charged. If you must drive, park at a remote train station and take the train or subway.
- parking: A limited number of on-street parking spaces are located near the cathedral and there is a multi-storey car park nearby in Rochester Row.
- The Tower – Mon-Fri, 9:30am – 5:00pm; Sat-Sun, 9:30 AM – 6:00 PM
- Treasures of Westminster Cathedral – Mon-Fri, 9:30am – 5:00pm; Sat-Sun, 9:30 AM – 6:00 PM
- Treasures of Westminster Cathedral – Adults, £5; Children, £2.50; Families (2 adults, up to 4 children), £11
- Cathedral Clergy House, 42 Francis St, London
The area around Westminster Cathedral includes some of the world’s most spectacular real estate. Just a few minutes’ walk from the hotel are the Houses of Parliament on the River Thames, the seat of the British government, as well as other Whitehall Road sights such as the Admiralty, the Horse Guards and the famous Cenotaph. Another highlight of a walking tour of Whitehall is the small cul-de-sac known as Downing Street (number 10 is the official home of the Prime Minister of Great Britain). The area’s other major religious landmark is Westminster Abbey, where most of the English sovereigns have been crowned since William the Conqueror (it’s also been the scene of many royal weddings).
Other nearby attractions include the medieval Banqueting House, completed in 1622 and including nine spectacular allegorical ceiling paintings by Rubens; and Winston Churchill’s Underground War Rooms with their many memories from the Second World War. For art lovers, one of London’s largest art collections is housed at Tate Britain, along with the Tate Modern across the Thames (they’re linked by high-speed ferry services). For something a little less cerebral, take a stroll through pretty St James’ Park to Buckingham Palace, or do a little shopping in iconic stores such as Harrods, Selfridges and Fortnum and Masons.