INSIDE WESTMINSTER CATHEDRAL

Come with me inside Westminster Cathedral.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Not Westminster Abbey, scene of coronations and royal weddings but Westminster Cathedral, a ten minute walk away.  One of the best kept secrets in Central London.

Facade of Westminster Cathedral striped brick, byzantine style building
Westminster Cathedral

IS WESTMINSTER ABBEY THE SAME AS WESTMINSTER CATHEDRAL?

No. The Abbey is a Church of England church and the Cathedral is a Roman Catholic church.  Not just any old Catholic church but the mother church of Roman Catholicism in England and Wales.

HOW OLD IS WESTMINSTER CATHEDRAL?

Not very old.  Well not in Cathedral terms.  It was built between 1895 and 1903.  The interiors have yet to be finished.  When the architect John Bentley died in 1903 he left no complete designs for the interior beyond saying that he intended there to be mosaics.  Once the main building work was done, bare brick was the order of the day. When you walk in, marble floors stretch away from you, around you walls glimmer with mosaics but when you look up you are greeted with a sea of black London stock brick.  At some point, maybe a wealthy benefactor will step in and the mosaics will cover the brick.

Nave and Altar of Westminster Cathedral London

CAN ANYBODY VISIT WESTMINSTER CATHEDRAL?

Yes.  You do not need to be Catholic or even Christian. Even better, you do not have to pay to visit Westminster Cathedral. That having said, Westminster Cathedral is primarily a place of worship and most people do come here to pray or attend a service.  You need to be respectful of the worshippers.  If there is a service going on, do not wander around.  Always take pictures with discretion and tact.

WHAT IS THERE TO SEE AT WESTMINSTER CATHEDRAL?

Outside, the building is like no other in London, it would look at home in an Italian piazza with its striped brick work, domed roof and high bell tower.  Inside it is the mosaics and Eric Gill sculpture that you have come to see.

Moasic of Christ Enthroned West Door Westminster Cathedral London
West Door
ERIC GILL AND WESTMINSTER CATHEDRAL

Some of the very first sculptures that Eric Gill made are in the Cathedral as well as the last. When he was a young unknown sculptor and newly converted Catholic, Eric Gill was commissioned to carve fourteen stations of the cross. When the first of modernist panels was installed it was greeted with vitriolic comments but, by the time the fourteenth was in place on Good Friday 1918, people had come round. You will find the stations of the cross on the pillars surrounding the main nave.

Limestone carved panel showing ninth station of the cross Jesus Falls a Third Time by Eric Gill Westminster Cathedral London
Eric Gill Station of the Cross

For Gill’s last sculpture head over to the Chapel of St George and the English Martyrs. Above the altar Eric Gill has carved not a crucified Christ but one triumphant in death flanked by St Thomas More and St John Fisher both executed by Henry VIII in 1535.

Limestone altar carving of Christ with St Thomas More and St John Fisher
English Martyrs by Eric Gill
MOSAICS OF WESTMINSTER CATHEDRAL

The interior of Westminster Cathedral is a geologists dream, there are over 100 different types of marble inlaid on the walls and floors. Many of the chapels are covered in glittery beautiful mosaics. As a rough rule of thumb the chapels on the right nearest the west door are the oldest ones getting newer as you head clockwise round the interior.

The Chapel of St Gregory and St Augustine is dedicated to the people who first brought the gospel to England and was complete in 1903. Dotted around the walls you’ll find depictions of other early notable British Christians my favourites being St Cuthbert, St Edmund and the Venerable Bede. You will see graves marked by red cardinals hats around the Cathedral, these the former Archbishops of Westminster. Cardinal Basil Hume rests in the Chapel of St Gregory and St Augustine.

Mosaic altarpiece chapel of St Gregory and St Augustine Westminster Cathedral London
Chapel of St Gregory and St Augustine

The Chapel of St Andrew is dedicated to all things Scottish even though the Cathedral’s reach only stretches to England and Wales. Not only are the walls and ceiling beautiful here, look down for amazing fishy marble inlays.

Marble inlay of fish on floor of St Andrews Chapel Westminster Cathedral London
Fish swimming on the floor of St Andrew’s Chapel

Boris Anrep mosaics on the floor the National Gallery are some of my favourite things, everybody else rushes off to see Monet but I’m standing there looking down. It was a joy to see his work in the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament but on the walls this time. Most of his designs here are from the late Fifties and depict Biblical scenes, I confess that I’m not sure where this rather fine peacock fits in.

Peacock mosaic by Boris Anrep Westminster Cathedral London
Boris Anrep Peacock

In 2003 Christopher Hobbs designed the mosaics for the Chapel of St Joseph. He had previously come up with a particularly striking version of St Alban, the first British martyr.

Mosaic holy family chapel of St Joseph Westminster Cathedral
Chapel of St Joseph

Most recent of all are Tom Phillips RA designs for the Chapel of St George and English Martyrs. He has opted for flames emblazoned with the names of the forty English martyrs. All of these twenty-first century mosaics have been installed by Tessa Hunkin.

Flame shaped mosaics with names of English Martyrs by Tom Phillips Westminster Cathedral
English Martyrs Mosaic
WESTMINSTER CATHEDRAL TOWER VIEWS

Once you’ve had your fill of carvings and mosaics head up. For a small fee you can ascend the Tower. Thankfully a lift whisks you up the 210 feet (64 metres for the metrically minded) to the top of the campanile. The Tower is home to Big Edward who at two and half tons is one of the biggest bells in the country. You are not here to see the bell, you are here to see the views. I loved looking down at the green domes that top the aisle of the cathedral.

Wesstminster Cathedral roof
Westminster Cathedral roof

Or you can look across modern rooftops, to St James’s Park and the Post Office Tower beyond.

Victoria new buildings
Looking out over St James’s Park

Turn around and you can see Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament and the Walkie Talkie building.

Westminster Cathedral view
View toward Westminster

Music is also a draw to Westminster Cathedral. The choir is one of the best in the country and the organ is unique. It has two consoles from which it can be played, not that that affects the sound. Regular concerts are held and I have yet to visit when some kind a music either a rehearsal or for a service is not being played.

People who scurry up Victoria Street, might look in wonder at the byzantine building that suddenly appears among the modern office blocks but few actually venture in. Next time you are in Victoria why not pop inside Westminster Cathedral, it is only a five minute walk from Victoria Station or St James’s Park tube and free.

Inside Westminster Cathedral you will find a wealth of mosaics and the opportunity of views over the rooftops to Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace. Even better it is all free #London #Catherdral

Nearby you will visit Cultural Wednesday favourites Buckingham Palace Mews, the State Rooms of Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament and the Banqueting House.

  • Westminster Cathedral,
  • Open: The first Mass is a 7am and the last at 5.30. Mass is held seven times a day, check the Cathedral website for times. Fit your mosaic marvelling around the Mass times.
  • Cathedral admission: Free
  • Tower Opening Times: Monday – Friday 9.30am – 5pm 6pm weekends
  • Tower admission: Adults £6, family £12
  • Nearest tube: Victoria and St James’s Park
Oregon Girl Around the World

21 Comments

  1. February 12, 2020 / 12:50 pm

    Oh wow! It really is a well kept secret. How could we miss that?!

    • Catherine
      Author
      February 12, 2020 / 12:54 pm

      Hiding in olain sight with all that stripy brickwork

  2. February 13, 2020 / 7:58 pm

    I popped my head inside here the other day, drawn by the splendour of the exterior. A service was in progress so I ducked out again, but knowing you can go up into the tower for those incredible views, I will have to return on my next London trip.

    • Catherine
      Author
      February 13, 2020 / 8:10 pm

      The first time we tiptoed across the back to go straight up the tower because a service was in full flow

  3. February 13, 2020 / 10:33 pm

    Re: the peacock. In Catholic tradition, the peacock represents immortality – possibly because it renews its beautiful tail feathers every year. In Classical times, the peacock was an attribute of the Roman goddess Juno (Greek Hera). Finding it in a Christian cathedral may be an example of the early Christian church adapting a popular Pagan symbol and giving it a Christian makeover.

    • Catherine
      Author
      February 13, 2020 / 10:46 pm

      Thank you! Shall look for churchy peacocks from now on

  4. February 14, 2020 / 3:40 pm

    We visited Westminster a few weeks ago, when we arrived at Westminster Cathedral there was a service in progress so we couldn’t look around or take photos. So it’s great to see what we missed, we’ll have to head back. #farawayfiles

  5. February 14, 2020 / 6:53 pm

    Been to London so many times and NEVER knew of this beautiful cathedral. Thanks for sharing! We will definitely visit on our next trip.

    • Catherine
      Author
      February 14, 2020 / 7:08 pm

      Well worth exploration

  6. Bright Lights of America
    February 15, 2020 / 12:05 am

    I lived in London and didn’t even know that there was a Westminister Church as well as a Westminister Abbey. I kind of like that the architect didn’t give much direction on how it should be decorated inside. He left it open for someone else to make their mark.

    • Catherine
      Author
      February 15, 2020 / 12:43 pm

      Glad to be of service 😉

  7. February 15, 2020 / 1:22 am

    Great post! I happened to stumble upon Westminster Cathedral randomly a few years back while wandering through London and fell in love with it! It is such a beautiful cathedral and well worth a visit. Plus I love that it is super quiet, so you’re able to enjoy the cathedral without having to fight the crowds.

    • Catherine
      Author
      February 15, 2020 / 12:42 pm

      The lack of crowds is a huge plus

  8. Ladies what travel
    February 15, 2020 / 12:02 pm

    Thanks for introducing this to me – I had no idea! I’m going to IMM in Westminster next month, might try to visit while we’re there… #FarawayFiles

    • Catherine
      Author
      February 15, 2020 / 12:32 pm

      Will look out for you at IMM

  9. February 15, 2020 / 4:17 pm

    It’s so beautiful! I love finding hidden gems like this, added to my list of must-sees for when I’m back in London. Thanks for sharing!

  10. February 17, 2020 / 2:28 pm

    Walked right by it last trip! To be fair, we did have tickets to Hamilton at Victoria Palace down the street and were a little distracted, but it is quite lovely inside. I do love a good mosaic and the fishy floors are very cool. Thanks for sharing with #FarawayFiles.

    • Catherine
      Author
      February 17, 2020 / 6:58 pm

      Hamilton is a worthy distraction

  11. May 8, 2020 / 9:36 am

    Enjoyed reading that post, Catherine. Ellie and I have visited several times, as we live fifteen minutes walk away, but we still found many bits of information in your post that we had not been aware of. We regularly show people the way to Westminster Cathedral. We are sure they mean Westminster Abbey, but hey.. gotta learn the hard way or it won t stick haha..

    • Catherine
      Author
      May 8, 2020 / 10:50 am

      I might have done the same 🤣

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