Cathedral delight: why Westminster isn’t just about the Abbey

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Crowds and crowds of visitors to London flock to Westminster Abbey, recognising it as one of the architectural icons of not just London but the whole of the UK. However, far from everyone has heard of the other major place of worship in Westminster; the great, ornate church that stands just next door to the Abbey – Westminster Cathedral. The largest Catholic church in England and Wales, it’s also the seat of the denomination’s most senior priest in the country, the Archbishop of Westminster.

Granted, unlike the Abbey, the Cathedral can’t claim a history that dates back a whole millennium – its site was purchased in 1885 and the finished building opened just over a century ago in 1903 – however, over the decades, it’s had a multitude of admirers; not least the great British poet John Betjeman, whom once described it as “a masterpiece in striped brick and stone in an intricate pattern of bonding, the domes being all-brick in order to prove that the good craftsman has no need of steel or concrete”. Indeed, its appearance arguably takes influence from classic Byzantine architecture, blessed as it is with its turrets and mosque-like domes.

Westminster Abbey church in London
To visit the cathedral (which given its central location, whether you’re staying at the Montcalm Brewery Hotel London or not, is very easy) is to follow in the footsteps of some illustrious people. Her Majesty the Queen did so during her silver jubilee in 1977, as well as Pope John Paul II in 1982 and Pope Benedict XVI in 2010.

Away from its enormous significance for the Catholic faith, perhaps the cathedral’s most celebrated aspect is its musical heritage – indeed, this maybe, worship aside, is the major incentive for visiting Westminster Cathedral. Its choir is internationally recognised, especially for Gregorian chant and Renaissance polyphony. And yet its most recent work has intriguingly included John Tavener’s The Beautiful Names, a composition comprising the 99 names of Allah to be found in the Qur’an, which premiered in 2007.

Also, another major incentive for visitors to the capital to visit Westminster Cathedral is that, unlike the Abbey, it’s entirely free to enter. It accepts donations, of course, but you’re utterly welcome to participate in one of its masses or just to walk in and take a look around. And, on a rainy day in Westminster, there’s a good chance doing the latter may strike you as very appealing!