Crystal Towers

I first saw Westminster Cathedral on television (at Christmas, Midnight Mass) a few years ago.  I was intrigued by the architecture, but I didn’t give it much thought afterwards.  Then, one day a couple of years ago, I decided it would be worth a visit later that day to see whether it had any interesting stone.  I hadn’t Googled it, you see...  I had only seen it from a tower-block office window, and the Midnight Mass broadcast had quite rightly focused on the service rather than the building.

I mentioned my plan to a friend who was at the same meeting as I was in London that morning - she said that she wished she had known I was going as she would have bought her copy of the book about the Cathedral’s marbles along with her.  At that point, I twigged that this might just be an unusual building.  In my defence, although I was baptised a Catholic as a baby, and took my First Holy Communion as a child, I spend rather more time in the Gothic architecture of my far-from-London local Anglican cathedral than I do in an RC one so I had no real reason to know that Westminster Cathedral is famous for its marbles!  

Pillars in the South Transept
Pillars in the South transept
So, an hour later I ambled across the Piazza, which is hidden away near Victoria Station, but until you’re close enough to see the detail of the mosaics the red brick and pale stone exterior (I'll spare you a list of the varieties) only hints at the richness of symbolism, tone, palette and beauty inside.  I walked in and looked along the nave.  Then I just stood there for a minute, taking it all in, wishing I had Di’s book with me.  I walked around and I wouldn't mind betting that my eyes were open wide with wonder as I recognised some of the stone as old friends and didn't recognise some of the others at all.  I happened on a rack full of the then-current (March 2014) edition of Oremus, the Cathedral’s magazine, and being me, sat down to look through it.  Lo and behold, it had a two-page guided tour of the marbles in it!  It noted that the Cathedral has more than 120 varieties of marbles and granites from 25 countries across 5 continents which gives you an idea of its visual richness.  I’m certainly not going to try to replicate Oremus’ tour, but a number of particular memories stick with me:  The work it had all taken; an unusual blue Brazilian marble I learned was Azul Macaubas; the beautiful mosaic ceilings of some of the chapels; the stormy sea and sea creatures recreated in stone in St Andrew’s chapel; a dark red Rosso Levanto marble bench; stunning pillars; Cardinal Hume’s resting place...  I bought the book at my first opportunity and have been back more than once since my first visit.

 And the Cathedral is not even finished!  The nave ceiling is black.  It is brick – I don’t know whether it has been blackened by incense and candle smoke or by general London smokiness and smog from days of not-so-yore.  When the ceiling is fully mosaic, reflecting the light, this will be one of the Modern Wonders of the World. The main abiding image by far that I have in my mind is the same impression as I had got from seeing the Cathedral on television – that of the piers and columns against this black ceiling looking like crystal towers or an exotic town against a night sky.  It has been a labour of love and of faith. I think that this photograph shows that beautifully.

Crystal towers against a night sky


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