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Mother Church of England and Wales celebrates 100 years

Westminster Cathedral has celebrated the centenary of its consecration with a High Mass and an exhibition revealing its hidden treasures.

The primary celebrant of the Mass on Monday, June 28, was Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, who thanked God for the commitment and enthusiasm of the people who built and have been part of Westminster Cathedral. Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor gave the homily, and spoke of the origins of Westminster Cathedral and of Cardinal Manning, the Archbishop of Westminster at the time of its construction.

He said: “The history of this great cathedral, Westminster Cathedral, indicates the expectations and the hope of restored Catholic and Christian community of this land.”

The cardinal added a more personal note, saying: “Among the ceremonies, I always love the Chrism Mass when so many priests of the diocese concelebrate with their bishops and a vast crowd of lay people join us as the oil for the sacraments are blessed; priests renew their priestly promises and all rejoice that we are God’s holy people.”

In celebration of the centenary an exhibition, Treasures of the Cathedral, will be opening on July 1. It will be showing the most precious historical artefacts that belong to the cathedral, such as a 13th-century ceremonial cross, a chalice belonging to the recusant era, a silk fragment from the tomb of St Edward the confessor, and an art nouveau monstrance. Detailed vestments and relics all will be part of the exhibition.

It will also tell the history of the cathedral and will include an original model of the building. Taking place on the second floor gallery, the exhibition will give a unique view of the cathedral interior.

Canon Christopher Tuckwell, the administrator of the cathedral, said that the exhibition was going to be “a very exciting event and I hope that, by making available to the public some of the lovely things normally stored out of sight, it will arouse a greater interest in the Cathedral and its artefacts”.

Constructed in a Mediterranean Byzantine style, the cathedral was commissioned by John Francis Bentley, who died before its completion. Bentley, who was actually known for his gothic style, arguably built the greatest 19th century Byzantine church in Europe for his time.

Fr Anthony Symondson, an expert on architecture and artefacts, said that the cathedral was a “fusion of Gothic structure with Byzantine style” because of the Gothic piers buttresses and the interior galleries but with traditional Byzantine domes and round arches. He said the construction of Westminster Cathedral brought back the Byzantine style to a country that had been dominated by gothic architecture.

The largest cathedral in England and Wales was finished in 1903, but canon law dictated that all debt was to be repaid before the cathedral could be consecrated. Consequently, the consecration of took place on June 28, 1910.

Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor said that a distinguished architect, Ormand Shaw, spoke of the cathedral at the time of its completion saying: “Beyond all doubt, it is the finest church that has been built for centuries, superb in its scale and character, and full of the most devouring interest. It is impossible to overrate the magnificence of this design. This was/is an example of dignified Byzantine architecture at its very best.”

The Architects’ Journal described it as “great religious building which, though clearly rooted in the architectural concerns of the late 19th century, has timeless qualities”.