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Westminster Cathedral is the most important Roman Catholic church in England, and is the seat of the Catholic Archbiship of Westminster. When it was designed by John Francis Bentley in the 1890s he eschewed the Gothic style popular with Victorians, and went for a striking Byzantine exterior. The fact that London’s Protestant Gothic masterpiece, Westminster Abbey, was just a stone’s throw from the pulpit may have had a lot to do with this bold statement.
On first viewing the cathedral doesn’t even look like an English church – its red-and-white stripped exterior looks more like a Turkish temple. The cupola was modelled on the one at St. Sophia. And its 83-metre tall bell-tower (or campanile), has a passing resemblance to the Basilica of St. Mark.
The interior is certainly worth a visit… it’s quite unlike anything that you will expect. The famous fourteen Stations of the Cross depicting Christ’s crucifixion were carved by Eric Gill in 1918, and the nave is the widest in the country – with seats enough for twelve hundred. It is 342 feet long, 156 feet wide and almost as tall again – 117 feet.
The decoration hit a snag when funds for the marble ran out halfway through. Bentley was forced to continue the upper-half in bare brick.
A popular pastime for tourists is a climb up the cathedral’s campanile, with fine views of Buckingham Palace and Parliament. There is even a lift installed, so you won’t have to struggle up the stairs.
Most Londoners are unaware of the secret that awaits them at the summit… the cross at the top is said to contain a relic of the ‘True Cross’ – a piece removed from Christ’s own crucifix.
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