The principal Catholic Church in the country, built in the early Christian Byzantine style and essentially “Catholic” in its appearance, was designed by Victorian architect John Francis Bentley and opened in 1903. Under the laws of the Catholic Church at the time, no place of worship could be consecrated unless free from debt and having its fabric completed, so the consecration ceremony did not take place until 1910.
It is situated in a splendid piazza on Victoria Street. I suggest walking around the cathedral before entering, to enjoy the magnificent structure from many different angles. As you enter you will be immediately overwhelmed by the awesome feeling of being in God’s House and although large it has a feeling of intimacy. Always a busy place, yet a hushed calm prevails. The odour of incense in the air intensifies the wonderful feeling of holiness. Stand quietly just inside the entrance and look in awe down the vast nave towards the High Altar – you will remember this sight forever! The roof above the nave is strangely dark and seems unfinished.
The cathedral is a “work in progress” and as the architect died before it was open, many mosaic works have been created by others subsequently – some with controversy. This “marble palace” contains marble from 24 different countries and consist of over 100 varieties. Many side chapels are ideal for quiet prayer, and the large Stations of the Cross designed by Eric Gill are impressive. The gift shop is packed with items, and while there you could obtain a ticket to ride the lift to the top of the tower for great views. You could also see the new “Treasures of Westminster Cathedral” exhibition of many rare ecclesiastical objects, vestments, chalices and sacred relics and learn how the Cathedral was created, plus see one of the greatest architectural models in Britain. Tickets to this and the tower cost £5 each (concessions £2.50). If you pay for both there is a discount.
There is no admission charge to the Cathedral so of course donations are welcome. Be sure to visit – you’ll be glad you did. Photography is permitted, but can be a distraction with so many visitors. For modest refreshments visit the tiny basement café near the entrance.
There are several services every day and if you are fortunate you may here some amazing singing from the world renowned choir. The cathedral has been visited by two Popes, and HM the Queen – the first time a reigning monarch has visited a Roman Catholic Church since the Reformation.
Nearby is St Paul’s bookshop selling a vast range of literature and religious supplies. It even has its own chapel, and is the biggest shop of its type that I have ever seen.