" J F Bentley’s basilican cathedral is a series of surprises. First, when near to it, you notice the fine quality of the brickwork contrasting with the proportional bands of Portland stone. Everywhere the external detail is precise and delicate, the grouping of turrets, entrances and windows and blank spaces is carefully contrived and never dull, never fussy... From the outside you do not expect what is the greatest surprise of all, that the Cathedral looks larger inside than it looks from the outside"
Sir John Betjeman
"It is one of the most potent buildings in London with an almost tangible atmosphere of theatrical spirituality"
Colin Amery, Financial Times, July 1995
"Just as the bleak enfilade of blank-faced office blocks in Victoria Street approaches Victoria Station, London springs one of its most memorable surprises. Between a narrow break in the buildings, a striped campanile rockets above the weighty majesty of brick-built Byzantine domes."
Michael Hall, County Life, July 1995
"How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord God of Hosts..." Psalm 83
If you enter the Cathedral at a quiet moment in the day, don’t imagine that it is always like this. Westminster Cathedral must be one of the busiest churches in the United Kingdom. Located in the heart of London, it is the mother-church of England & Wales. People are drawn to this great edifice from all over London, all over the country and the world. If you are trying to imagine ‘what goes on’ here, consider that there are seven masses each day, many great services of worship on special occasions and unique gatherings of every description which fill the Cathedral to the doors.
Westminster Cathedral Choir, justly renowned for consistent excellence, sings at the Solemn Mass each evening - with few exceptions. Even when no public ceremony is taking place, the private prayer of individual believers is a work of faith, continuously in progress. The Cathedral is a sacred space at the heart of a great city, dedicated to the worship of God.
Reaching back through time
The architectural master-work of John Francis Bentley (1839-1902). Bentley was a Victorian church architect of great accomplishments. However, the new cathedral at Westminster was his first commission calling for a neo-Byzantine basilica plan, based on Mediterranean models of the early Christian centuries. Since Christian belief took hold in the east, the first churches had an oriental character. When the foundation stone of Hagia Sophia was laid on 23 February, 532 AD two earlier churches on the site had already been destroyed. The first of these (burnt down by a mob in 404 AD) had been built by the Emperor Constantine and was one of the earliest buildings erected for Christian worship.
Bentley’s Grand Tour
It was to buildings such as Hagia Sophia, San Vitale in Ravenna and St Mark’s, Venice, that Bentley turned for inspiration. In 1894, to prepare himself mentally and spiritually for the work of designing the Cathedral, Bentley set out on a European tour of many of the ‘primitive’ church buildings of Europe with St Mark’s, Venice as the high point of his journey. In Rome, he was received in private audience by Pope Leo XIII, who held his hands in his own as they talked, finally bestowing a special blessing on the architect and his great task of designing a worthy cathedral in the heart of London. John Bentley returned after four months abroad, with Westminster Cathedral clear in his mind. We know this, because his detailed plans were soon put into the hands of his client, Cardinal Herbert Vaughan. Although the influence of the Byzantine prototypes are there for all to see, Bentley had no time for slavish imitation and the London cathedral is truly ‘an original’. Working closely with the Cardinal, Bentley would soon be supervising the construction of the enormous brick shell, with its domes and the finely detailed and elaborate exterior. Interior decorations would also commence, but it was always the intention that future generations of Catholics would gradually complete the interior.