Friday 6/28: Westminster Cathedral

So this morning I woke up, ran 2 miles, and had a variation on my tons-of-protein-plus-a-little-grain breakfast which involved bacon, scrambled eggs, milk, and an English muffin. When I finished, I hurried back to the dorm to shower and get dressed–I decided to actually try looking nice today.

The ride to London took about an hour and a half, and the rain was just kicking in as we pulled up to Westminster Cathedral. (The weather had been unusually pleasant up until today.) I was sort of taken aback as we entered, both by the massive size of the chamber and the haunting choral melodies flowing, presumably, from speakers hidden in the rafters.

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Our group was permitted to explore at whim, each of us assuming our own pace. (Which of course landed me at the end.) I settled on striding along each side of the Cathedral from entrance to rear, first right, then left.

The first thing I noticed, on my right within an iron-barred cell, was a baptistry “font” (used during the days of completely immersive baptisms; the word “font” originates in the Latin word fontis meaning “spring of water”). Its octagonal shape represents the day of resurrection, often thought of as the “eighth day” of creation, a day beyond time.

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Beside the font stands a statue of St. John the Baptist, whose presence serves as a reminder to Christians that baptism is a sign of a life lived in reflection of Jesus, who was baptized by John in the river Jordan.

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Outside of the cell stood something resembling a wooden cabinet.

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One look at the sign hanging above it offered clarity.

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As a huge Supernatural zealot, I’d heard plenty about this stuff, mainly in the context of human-on-demon combat, so this was an exciting find for me. Sadly, there did not appear to be any demons prowling the premises at the time, so I decided I’d just have to save it for later battles.

Next up was the Chapel of Saint Gregory and Saint Augustine. A mosaic lit up the threshold, the phrase, in Latin, translating to “Not Angles, but angels, if they were but Christians.” Apparently, this is what St Gregory is reputed to have said upon witnessing a collection of children–Anglo-Saxons–being sold as slaves. Sounds like the guy to call to pull you out of the fire.

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Speaking of mosaics, Westminster Cathedral, the planning of which was underway as early as 1884, when the site was acquired by the Catholic Church, is absolutely filled with them. I loved being able to search them out as I probed around. I mean, they were everywhere. And they were gorgeous.

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(Above: Chapel of Saint Gregory and Saint Augustine.)

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(Above: Chapel of Saint Andrew and the Saints of Scotland… my favorite mosaic.)

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(Both above: Saint David of Wales.)

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(Saint Anne.)

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Even for those who aren’t particularly religious, the architecture alone warrants a visit. Over 100 different marbles adorn the Cathedral (at last count, there were 126 types), which is more than can be said of any other building in England. The marble can be sourced to 24 different countries on five continents. Hues of blue, green, red, and white fall in intricate designs, carved piece by piece in ripples and waves, cubes, knobs. Faces. (And take it from a fourth-year art student: faces are hard enough to depict in sketch pads, let alone in stone.)

(Fittingly, beneath the statue of St. Peter, pictured below, a plaque reads: “Tu es Petrus, et super hanc petram edificabo ecclisiam meam,” which translates to “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.”)

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Seriously, though, the photos don’t hold a candle to the real thing.

Speaking of candles…

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Candles were available to light as “prayers” (for a very small fee). They certainly created a nice ambience in some of the otherwise dimly-lit spaces.

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It’s easy to forget that this space is sacred for many people, so for those who visit, I recommend disabling sound on your camera. Also, as you can tell, photography is permitted, but flash is not. There are prayers going on in basically all 14 Stations of the Cross at any given time, so it’s best to fall back and stay quiet out of respect. Services are held at least six times a day, so you can never expect to be the only one inside.

And, if you’re feeling introspective enough by the time you make your way around to the far left corner of the seminary, you can feel free to pop a squat in the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament–possibly the finest space the Cathedral offers.

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Just before we left, I came across a spiral staircase and climbed it to find the “Treasures of Westminster Cathedral” exhibit, which is open from 9:30 to 5 on weekdays and through 6 on weekends, and is included in the price of your admission ticket.

The exhibition is interesting, and helpful for those like me who are fuzzy on the history of Catholicism. At the very least, it’s cool to see all the shiny gold stuff that the clergy has acquired over time.

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Below are Cardinal Wiseman’s mitre, maniple (a band which hangs over the left arm), burse (used to carry the folded cloth on which the Sacred Host and chalice are placed on the altar), and gloves.

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The record of the music sung at the consecration in 1910 was also on display. This record is still used today for many of the Cathedral’s activities.

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A+ for the vintage ephemera and newspaper clippings surrounding the consecration. I learned that the Cathedral was actually completed in 1903, but per Catholic custom, was not permitted to be unveiled for use until all debts were cleared–a process which took Westminster 7 years. The celebration lasted three days.

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Oh, I made sure to capture the view from upstairs! I felt very big taking this. Which means a lot coming from a girl who’s 5’3.

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There’s the ACS clan down there!

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Next stop: Westminster Abbey!

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