A HIDDEN GEM OF LONDON: WESTMINSTER CATHEDRAL
Before I publish a post on my first international trip this semester, (Copenhagen) I feel obliged to showcase and review what I now consider to be a hidden gem of London: Westminster Cathedral.
England is recognized as having maybe the strongest Catholic presence and faith in the world. But what’s funny and somewhat bizarre is that most people, whether they are Catholic or not, would associate Westminster Abbey with this presence. Yes, the Abbey is a Gothic church and for some time in the 15th and 16th centuries was used for solely religious faith, but since then its status as moved to a church responsible directly to the sovereign. This is why the coronations of all English and British Monarchs and almost all royal weddings have been in WA for hundreds of years now. But the building that actually wields the most power in England for Catholics is Westminster Cathedral and has been for almost 150 years now.
From the outside, you may confuse WC to be a mosque rather than, well, a cathedral! In fact, the whole building was constructed and designed in neo-Byzantine style from head architect John Francis Bentley. And this is very evident upon seeing the building from the outside; a predominant feature of mosques (such as the Haga Sophia in Istanbul) are their domed minarets. Some of these stylized features are present here as some of the cathedral minarets/tower have a domed overhead. For me, I was simply in awe of how majestic the building stood out from the rest of the neighborhood. And this directly leads to me why I call this masterpiece a “hidden gem”. When most tourists/prospective visitors are interested in coming to London, 95% of the city guides they use generally have the same points/locales of interest. Now, this is completely fine in my opinion, as long as you try to balance it out a bit by going off the beaten path. Westminster is everything except not touristy, yet in all the London guides/forums I read before coming, not one recommended visiting Westminster Cathedral. I consider myself lucky that I somehow came across this marvelous feat.
I was already memorized by what I was seeing on the outside that I did not expect to see the incredible beauty of the cathedral on the inside. When John Bentley died, there were no completed mosaics in the cathedral and he left behind little in terms of sketches and designs. Thus, the style and design of the mosaics were influenced by donors as well as designers, overseen by a cathedral committee. While I am a complete novice in terms of the Catholic faith, the detail of the mosaics was so striking that even I could determine the famous figures, including: Jesus Christ, Virgin Mary, St. Peter, St. Joseph and St. Paul all in various poses and incredible religious moments. I only wish that I could have spent more time examining every single stroke and detail.
The grand finale of my visit was the trip up to the top of the tower viewing gallery which is 64 meters (210 feet high). I said before in a previous post that the view of London from the top of the Tate Modern was the best I had experience so far; well this one made that view look like a joke. Initially hit with a gust of cool and crisp January air, I was (almost) blown away from peering across the vast streets, corridors and mazes that incorporated London. Here you can truly see everything and feel that you are a part of it, that you are in fact a “Londoner”. Words do not do justice to what I saw that day.