Westminster Cathedral: Wikis


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Westminster Cathedral
Westminster Cathedral, London-10July2009.jpg

Westminster Cathedral from Victoria Street

Basic information
Location Westminster
Full name The Metropolitan Cathedral of the Precious Blood
Geographic coordinates 51°29′46″N 0°08′23″W / 51.4961°N 0.1397°W / 51.4961; -0.1397Coordinates: 51°29′46″N 0°08′23″W / 51.4961°N 0.1397°W / 51.4961; -0.1397
County London
Country England
Ecclesiastical information
Denomination Catholic
Province Westminster
Diocese Westminster
Diocese created 1850
Bishop Archbishop Vincent Nichols.
Canons Christopher Tuckwell
Other chapter members moses
Director of
Martin Baker
Organist Matthew Martin (organist)
Website www.westminstercathedral.org.uk
Building information
Dates built 1895-1903
Year consecrated 1910
Architect(s) John Francis Bentley
Architectural style Neo-Byzantine
Length 110m
Towers 1
Tower height(s) 87m
The interior of Westminster Cathedral

Westminster Cathedral in London is the mother church of the Catholic community in England and Wales and the Metropolitan Church and Cathedral of the Archbishop of Westminster. It is dedicated to the Most Precious Blood of Jesus Christ.

The cathedral is located in Victoria, SW1, in the City of Westminster. It is the largest Catholic church in England and Wales, and should not be confused with Westminster Abbey of the Church of England. Westminster Cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of Westminster, currently Archbishop Vincent Nichols. As a matter of custom, each newly appointed Archbishop of Westminster has eventually been created a cardinal in consistory.



In the late 19th century, the Catholic Church hierarchy had only recently been restored in England and Wales, and it was in memory of Cardinal Wiseman (who died in 1865, and was the first Archbishop of Westminster from 1850) that the first substantial sum of money was raised for the new cathedral. The land was acquired in 1884 by Wiseman's successor, Cardinal Manning, having previously been occupied by the second Tothill Fields Bridewell prison. After two false starts in 1867 (under architect Henry Clutton) and 1892 (architect Baron von Herstel), construction started in 1895 under Manning's successor, the third archbishop Cardinal Vaughan with John Francis Bentley as architect. The cathedral opened in 1903, a little after Bentley's death. For reasons of economy the decoration of the interior had hardly been started and still much remained to be completed. It is often presumed that Westminster Cathedral was the first Catholic place of worship to be built in Britain after the English Reformation; however that honour belongs to St Patrick's in Soho Square.

Under the laws of the Catholic Church at the time no place of worship could be consecrated unless free from debt and having its fabric completed, so the consecration ceremony did not take place until June 28, 1910.

In 1977, as part of her Silver Jubilee Celebrations, the cathedral was visited by Her Majesty The Queen,[1]. Although there was no religious service (the visit was to a flower show) it was highly symbolic as the first visit of a reigning monarch of the United Kingdom to a Roman church in the UK since the Reformation.

On May 28, 1982, the first day of his six-day visit to the United Kingdom, Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass in the Cathedral.

In 1995, at the invitation of Cardinal Basil Hume, the cathedral was visited by HM The Queen, the first visit of a reigning monarch of the United Kingdom to a Catholic Church liturgy for several years.


Despite its relatively short history compared to other English cathedrals, Westminster has a distinguished choral tradition, and the choir is considered a fine one. This musical excellence has its origin in the shared vision of Cardinal Vaughan, the Cathedral's founder, and Sir Richard Runciman Terry, its inaugural Master of Music. Terry prepared his choristers for a year before their first sung service in public. For the remainder of his tenure (until 1924) he pursued a celebrated revival of great quantities of Latin repertoire from the English Renaissance, most of which had lain unsung ever since the Reformation. Students at the Royal College of Music who would become household names were introduced to their heritage when Charles Villiers Stanford sent them to the cathedral to hear "polyphony for a penny" (the bus fare). This program also required honing the boys' sight-reading ability to a then-unprecedented standard.

The Cathedral's musical traditions have been upheld by successive distinguished Masters of Music. Holders have included George Malcolm, whose trebles innovated a brilliant 'continental' tone, "voices like razors" to quote one auditor; Colin Mawby, Stephen Cleobury, David Hill and James O'Donnell. Since 2000, the post has been occupied by Martin Baker. It is believed Westminster Cathedral is the only Catholic Cathedral in the world to have a daily sung Mass and Vespers.

The Choir has commissioned many works from distinguished composers, many of whom are better known for their contribution to Anglican music, such as Benjamin Britten and Ralph Vaughan Williams. However, the Choir is particularly renowned for its performance of Gregorian chant and polyphony of the Renaissance.

All the boys of the Choir are boarders at the nearby Westminster Cathedral Choir School.

Unlike most other English cathedrals, Westminster does not have a separate Quire; instead, the choir are hidden from view in the Apse behind the High Altar. This, with the excellent acoustic of the cathedral building, contributes to its distinctive sound.

Located in the west gallery, the Grand Organ of four manuals and 81 stops occupies a more commanding position than many British cathedral organs enjoy. Built by Henry Willis III from 1922 to 1932, it remains one of the most successful and admired. One of Louis Vierne's best-known organ pieces, "Carillon de Westminster," the final movement from Suite no. 3 (op. 54) of Pièces de Fantaisie, was composed for it and dedicated to the builder. The apse organ of fifteen stops is older. Although the Grand Organ has its own attached console, a console in the apse can play both instruments.

Westminster Cathedral Choir

The establishment of a fine choral foundation was part of the original vision of the founder of Westminster Cathedral, Cardinal Herbert Vaughan. Vaughan laid great emphasis on the beauty and integrity of the new Cathedral’s liturgy, and regarded a residential choir school as essential to the realisation of his vision. Daily sung Masses and Offices were immediately established when the Cathedral opened in 1903, and have continued without interruption ever since. Today, Westminster Cathedral Choir is the only professional Roman Catholic choir in the world to sing daily Mass and Vespers.

Richard Terry, the Cathedral’s first Master of Music, proved to be an inspired choice. Terry was both a brilliant choir trainer and a pioneering scholar, one of the first musicologists to revive the great works of the English and Continental Renaissance composers. Terry built Westminster Cathedral Choir’s reputation on performances of music – by Byrd, Tallis, Taverner, Palestrina and Victoria, among others – that had not been heard since the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and Mass at the Cathedral was soon attended by inquisitive musicians as well as the faithful. The performance of great Renaissance masses and motets in their proper liturgical context remains the cornerstone of the choir’s activity.

George Malcolm consolidated the musical reputation of Westminster Cathedral Choir during his time as Master of Music – in particular through the now legendary recording of Victoria’s Tenebrae Responsories. More recent holders of the post have included Colin Mawby, Stephen Cleobury, David Hill and James O'Donnell. The choir continues to thrive under the current Master of Music, Martin Baker, who has held the post since 2000.

In addition to its performances of Renaissance masterpieces, Westminster Cathedral Choir has given many first performances of music written especially for it by contemporary composers. Terry gave the premières of music by Vaughan Williams (whose Mass in G minor received its liturgical performance at a Mass in the Cathedral), Gustav Holst, Herbert Howells and Charles Wood; in 1959 Benjamin Britten wrote his Missa brevis for the choristers; and since 1960 works by Lennox Berkeley, William Mathias, Colin Mawby and Francis Grier have been added to the repertoire. Most recently four new Masses – by Roxanna Panufnik, James MacMillan, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies and Judith Bingham – have received their first performance in the Cathedral. In June 2005 the choristers performed the world première of Sir John Tavener’s Missa Brevis for boys voices.

Westminster Cathedral Choir made its first recording in 1907. Many more have followed, most recently the acclaimed series on the Hyperion label, and many awards have been conferred on the choir’s recordings. Of these the most prestigious are the 1998 Gramophone Awards for both ‘Best Choral Recording of the Year’ and ‘Record of the Year’, for the performance of Martin’s Mass for Double Choir and Pizzetti’s Requiem. It is the only cathedral choir to have won in either of these categories.

The choir’s recordings include two discs of Palestrina on the Hyperion label – the Missa Hodie Christus Natus Est with motets for Advent and Christmas, and the Missa Dum Complerentur with Pentecost motets and plainchant. In addition, the choir has recorded MacMillan's Mass and a complete Mass for Easter Sunday on the Herald label. More recent recordings include a disc of Victoria Marian music and Vaughan Williams’s Mass in G minor which was recorded last July.

When its duties at the Cathedral permit, the choir also gives concert performances both at home and abroad. It has appeared at many important festivals, including Aldeburgh, Cheltenham, Salzburg, Copenhagen, Bremen and Spitalfields. It has appeared in many of the major concert halls of Britain, including the Royal Festival Hall, the Wigmore Hall and the Royal Albert Hall. The Cathedral Choir also broadcasts frequently on radio and television.

Westminster Cathedral Choir has recently undertaken a number of international tours, including visits to Hungary, Germany and the USA. The choristers participated in the 2003 and 2006 International Gregorian Chant Festival in Watou, Belgium, where they plan to return to in 2008, and the full choir performed twice at the Oslo International Church Music Festival in March 2006. In April 2005, 2007 and 2008 they performed as part of the “Due Organi in Concerto” festival in Milan.

Popular culture

The Campanile Bell Tower of Westminster Cathedral was featured prominently in the Alfred Hitchcock film Foreign Correspondent, at which the attempted murder of a journalist played by Joel McCrea took place.

See also


  • Patrick Rogers. Westminster Cathedral: from Darkness to Light. Burns & Continuum International Publishing Group, London (2003). ISBN 0860123588


External links



Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary


Wikipedia has an article on:


Proper noun

Westminster Cathedral


Westminster Cathedral

  1. the principal Roman Catholic church in England

See also

Simple English

Westminster Cathedral in London, England, is a Roman Catholic cathedral. It is the mother church of the Roman Catholic community in England and Wales and the Metropolitan Church and Cathedral for the Archbishop of Westminster.

The cathedral is near Victoria in the City of Westminster. It is the largest Roman Catholic church in England and Wales. It should not be confused with Westminster Abbey.

The cathedral was opened in 1903. It was designed by John Francis Bentley and is in the style of Byzantine church architecture. The nave is the widest of any church in England. The sanctuary is higher than the nave, so that the altar can be seen from any part of the nave. A very large crucifix hangs from the chancel arch. The Archiepiscopal Throne or cathedra, of marble and mosaic, is modelled on the Papal Throne at the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome. There are beautiful marble pillars which are all carved differently. In the crypt there are monuments to famous people.

Westminster Cathedral has a famous choir. The first Master of Music (choirmaster) was Sir Richard Runciman Terry. Since 2000, the Master of Music has been Martin Baker. Mass is sung every day.

The choir are famous for singing Gregorian chant and polyphony of the Renaissance. Composers such as Benjamin Britten and Ralph Vaughan Williams have written music for the choir.

All the boys of the Choir are boarders at the nearby Westminster Cathedral Choir School.

The organ is very large. It is in the west gallery (above the entrance). It was built by the organ builder Henry Willis III from 1922 to 1932. One of Louis Vierne's best-known organ pieces, "Carillon de Westminster," was composed for it and dedicated to the builder.

On May 28, 1982, the first day of his six-day visit to the United Kingdom, Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass in the Cathedral.

In 1995, Cardinal Basil Hume invited HM The Queen. This was the first visit of a reigning monarch of the United Kingdom to a Catholic liturgy since 1688 when James II & VII was king.

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