Crypt of Westminster Cathedral in London

Photos by OC-Travel
Westminster Cathedral in London is the largest Catholic Church in England and Wales and the seat of the Archbishop of Westminster.  It boasts a fascinating crypt, generally not open to the public.  It was a great privilege to visit here and have Mass while on pilgrimage recently (thanks to the good graces of the very kind and competent sacristan, Mr. Richard Hawker).  

The origins of Westminster Cathedral arise from the long and often difficult history of the Catholic Church in England after the devastation of the Protestant Revolt, when Catholics began to be persecuted and hunted down.  Things gradually changed when Catholics were given full rights as citizens in 1829.  In the years that followed, numbers of Catholics grew causing Blessed Pius IX to restore the English Catholic dioceses and bishops in the Holy Year 1850.

The main crypt chapel is dedicated to St. Peter, with a very large mosaic depicting scenes from his life.  In this chapel a handful of the cardinals are entombed, and even a Russian count who was an ambassador from Russia before the devastating Revolution of 1917.

The second part of the crypt has a smaller chapel, the chapel of St. Edmund of Canterbury (1175 - 1240), a patron of the Westminster Diocese.  This chapel, separated by an iron gate, is located directly below the high altar of the Cathedral.  Here are buried two of the most illustrious English-speaking bishops in the history of the world, Cardinal Wiseman (1850 - 1865) and Cardinal Manning (1865 - 1892).  The two prelates were originally entombed at St. Mary's Cemetery in Kensal Green, London.  In 1907 they were exhumed and re-interred in the new Cathedral, where they remain to this day.   The chapel has yet to be completed and hopefully some day will, left to the resources and imagination of subsequent generations.

In the photos can be seen our chaplain, Fr. William Barker, FSSP of the Vatican celebrating Holy Mass in the chapel of St. Edmund of Canterbury atop the altar dedicated to his memory.  The altar contains the relics of the saint with an above mosaic by William Christian Symons representing St. Edmund giving his blessing to the City of London.  Above the tombs of the cardinals can be seen their cardinalatial galero hats, rightfully disintegrating with great speed.

A Requiem Mass with fitting black Roman vestments was celebrated for the repose of the soul of Cardinal Wiseman and the chalice used had once belonged to him.  Cardinal Wiseman will always be famous as the first Archbishop of Westminster after the restored hierarchy in England.  He had many famous quotes, including this one from after the restoration of the hierarchy: "Catholic England has been restored to its orbit in the ecclesiastical firmament."  His short letter, "FROM WITHOUT THE FLAMINIAN GATE" is a must read.

Under two outstanding Archbishops of Westminster, Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman and Cardinal Henry Manning, the Catholic religion in England assumed a key role in national life.  Their successor, Cardinal Herbert Vaughan desired to enshrine this achievement in the permanent form of a cathedral worthy of the name.  The construction of Westminster Cathedral, although causing some disquiet from the anti-Catholic Establishment, proceeded with the foundation stone laid in 1895 and eight years later the cathedral was open for worship. Westminster Cathedral shines as the living centre for the Catholic Church in England, and is enshrined as one of the major artistic centres of the country, thanks in no small part to its world-class standard of liturgy and world-famous choir.

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