Address: 42 Francis Street, London SW1P 1QW

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Phone: 0207 798 9055

350m from Victoria

350m from Victoria

Westminster Cathedral is the largest Catholic church in London as well as being the most important Catholic church in England. In recent years it has been visited by two Popes and had two visits from Queen Elizabeth II.

In ancient times the site was Belinga Fen, a marshy area not far from Westminster Abbey. The Abbey monks reclaimed the land and opened a market and fairground. Over the years it became wasteland which saw a maze created and bull-baiting taking place.

In 1834 Tothill Fields prison was built on the site, this being a larger version of a nearby prison of the same name that had been built in 1618. It covered eight acres and would have been surrounded today by Morpeth Terrace, Francis Street, Ashley Place and Howick Place.

The site was acquired by the church in 1884 under Cardinal Manning with the foundation stone being laid in 1895. It was designed by John Francis Bentley and was of a Byzantine style as opposed to the traditional Gothic look. It was likened to a Turkish temple having a dramatic look with red and white brickwork and an 83 metre bell tower. This, thought to have been inspired by the Basilica of St Mark. The exterior was finished in 1903 with the first daily mass taking place soon after. Composer Edward Elgar conducted the choir around this time. By Catholic rules consecration couldn’t take place until the building was complete and a church was out of debt. Consecration took place in 1910.

The interior is famous for having the widest church nave in England with seating for 1,200. The marble floor can be seen to end halfway, with bricks used on the upper level as the budget ran out. Many visitors climb the bell tower to view Buckingham Palace with the cross at the top said to contain part of the ‘True Cross’, a piece taken from Christ’s own crucifix.

Of the landmarks in London, this is one of those that is, in many ways, ‘tucked away’. Aesthetically, it’s spectacular and well worth the effort to find it.

Click on the pics below for an enlarged view and use the arrow towards the right edge of each pic to go on to the next.