Tucked away on traffic-clogged Victoria Street lies this remarkable neo-Byzantine gem, seat of the Archbishop of Westminster, head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales. Faced with having Westminster Abbey as a neighbour, architect John Francis Bentley looked to the east for inspiration, to the basilicas of St. Mark's in Venice and the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul. The asymmetrical redbrick edifice, dating from 1903, is banded with stripes of Portland stone and abutted by a 273-foot-high bell tower (the bell is nicknamed "Big Edward") at the northwest corner, ascendable by elevator for sterling views. The interior remains incomplete but the unfinished overhead brickwork of the ceiling lends the church a dark, brooding intensity. Several side chapels, such as the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament and the Holy Souls Chapel, are beautifully finished in glittering mosaics. The Lady Chapel—dedicated to the Virgin Mary—is also sumptuously decorafted. Look out for the Stations of the Cross, a meditative representation of the Via Dolorosa found in all Catholic churches (by Eric Gill), and the striking baldachin—the enormous stone canopy standing over the altar with a giant cross suspended in front of it. The nave, the widest in the country, is constructed in green marble, which also has a Byzantine connection—it was cut from the same place as the marble used in the Hagia Sofia, and was almost confiscated by warring Turks as it traveled west. All told, more than 200 different types of marble can be found within the cathedral's interior. Just inside the main entrance is the tomb of Cardinal Basil Hume, head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales for more than 25 years. There's a café in the crypt.
Ashley Pl., London, SW1P 1QW, England
Apr 6, 2008
One of London's better second-tier churches. Unusual brick and marble look to both the exterior and interior as well as attractive mosaics.