Craig recommends… Here’s my latest Westminster Cathedral review. The best churches in London are St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. But I think the most beautiful one is actually Brompton Oratory. Temple Church is another popular one, primarily because of the slumbering stone knights on the floor, whilst St. Bride’s and All Hallows by the Tower are worth a look simply for their museums in their crypt.
Westminster Cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of Westminster, and the most important Catholic church in England.
Its striking Byzantine exterior was designed by John Francis Bentley in the 1890s, who eschewed the Gothic style popular with the Victorians and went for something completely different.
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 fact that London’s Protestant Gothic masterpiece, Westminster Abbey, was just a short distance down the road may have had a lot to do with this bold statement.
The dark interior is equally impressive, and quite unlike anything you might expect. The ceiling is practically black, like a night sky, and at 342 feet long and 156 feet wide, the nave is the widest in the country.
The decoration seems complete but a close inspection will reveal that is actually unfinished. Funds for the marble ran out halfway through and Bentley was forced to continue the upper-half in bare brick.
Westminster Cathedral’s 83-metre tall bell-tower (or campanile) is one of London’s most popular viewing platforms. They’ve even been thoughtful enough to install a lift, which means you don’t have to struggle up the stairs.
Most Londoners are totally unaware of the secret that sits at the top of the bell tower: the cross is said to contain a relic from the ‘True Cross’ – a piece of wood removed from Christ’s own crucifix.
This review originally appeared in his London blog
The outside looks a totally bizarre with all its stripes and domes and turrets, but the inside is something else entirely: it’s huge! It’s just one long nave that rises on up and up and gets blacker and blacker the higher you go. The bottom half is all nice and bright with its marble and paintings, statues and plaques etc., but the top half is just pitch-black brick. It’s just smokey black brick all the way to the roof, and it looks like it’s been domed over by the night sky.
The best bit is the campanile bell tower. They let you climb all the way to the viewing platform at the top for a few quid. I was just about to psyche myself up for the big climb up the stairs when the nice lady behind the till took me to the lift. Praise the Lord… a lift! It’s a miracle!
She rides it all the way to the top with you and then you have to press a bell when you want to come back down again. That summons her from her slumber, and she rides it back up and escorts you back down again. So that is all she does, all day. She just goes up and down and up and down and up and down this tower in a tiny two-foot by two-foot lift everytime someone rings the bell. I’m guessing that God must be punishing her for sins committed in a past life, or something like that.
The view is… okay. All you get are a load of rooftops and the top half of some famous sights. I saw the top half of the London Eye, the top half of Parliament, the top half of St. Paul’s, the top half of the Gherkin, the front half of Buckingham Palace, and distant views of Canary Wharf and Wembley Stadium. I thought the view from The Monument was better, but Westminster Cathedral is a good deal taller and you can see a lot further.
A word of warning: the bell went off when I was there and it’s extremely loud! I swear the tower shook a bit too, because I could feel it swaying from side to side about fifty feet. The bell must lie somewhere above your head, because the sound comes rumbling through your ears and shakes your bones till they crumble to dust. I have to admit that I was a little bit scared, but nobody noticed I don’t think.
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If you enjoy this then try: Brompton Oratory (walk it in 28 mins or catch a train from Victoria to South Kensington); St. Paul’s Cathedral (catch the tube from Victoria to St Pauls) and Westminster Abbey (walk it in 12 mins or catch a train from Victoria to Westminster).