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  • Writer's pictureCharlotte Alcock

A Brief History of Westminster Cathedral in London

Why is Westminister Cathedral Famous?

Westminster Cathedral is a famous towering cathedral constructed in Byzantine style by ecclesiastical architect John Francis Bentley. It is the seat of the Archbishop of Westminster and the mother church of Catholicism in England and Wales, and one of the busiest churches in the UK.

Westminster Cathedral

Westminister Cathedral History

Not to be confused with Westminster Abbey, this cathedral is the largest Roman Catholic church in England and Wales. Despite the common confusion between the two churches, the land on which Westminster Cathedral sits originally belonged to Benedictine monks (the same order, ironically, which founded Westminster Abbey before the Reformation). However, the site wasn’t actually acquired by the Catholic Church until 1884.

Designed in an extravagant Byzantine style (as popular as the Greek classicism it followed in the late 19th century) the cathedral was the work of ecclesiastical architect John Francis Bentley. Unfortunately Bentley was unable to witness his great project in its final form, after sadly passing away a year before completion. However, his creation endures as one of the most impressive examples of neo-Byzantine architecture in Europe.

With its tall, slender tower and striking geometrical patterns, it differs obviously from the Gothic Revival churches of Bentley’s contemporaries, let alone the medieval triumphs of Gothicism by which they were inspired. On first sight, many have imagined the building to be a mosque, which suggests not only London’s enduring cultural diversity, but also the original mutual exchange of Islamic and Christian culture in the Byzantine Empire.

Following the completion of its exterior, the cathedral had to wait a while to be consecrated, which did not officially occur until 1910. The reasons were financial: according to the statutes of the Catholic Church which prevailed at the time, a place of worship could only be consecrated once it was free from debt. For the same reason, the decoration of the church’s interior was also delayed; today, its interior remains unfinished.

The mosaics on the inside are still being perfected, fulfilling Bentley’s mournful prediction that they would take more than a century to complete. Over the years, many different artists have contributed to the ongoing interior work, which, along with the structure’s striking architectural style, led prominent 20th-century British architect and writer H. S. Goodhart-Rendel to describe Westminster Cathedral as ‘a work of extraordinary beauty and grandeur’.

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