My continuing year-long pilgrimage to the Catholic cathedrals of England and Wales brought me to London, north and south of the Thames. I lived in London for many years and had visited Westminster Cathedral on many occasions but had never been inside St George’s Cathedral in Southwark. St George’s was bombed during the war and rebuilt; it has an unfinished and austere air about it – although the sanctuary stained glass is impressive. Weekday mass and exposition saw a small group of us in the gaping space. Sad to see the sanctuary area in the side chapels, including where exposition took place, behind heavy iron security bars. Of all the London churches I visited on this trip it had the least welcoming architecture and feel. Westminster Cathedral, too, is famously unfinished but is a totally different experience: busy, well-loved, with much to draw one in and feed the senses and soul. I attended three masses here: a simple novus ordo Latin spoken mass, a choral mass with the full choir and a sung mass with the lay clerks. Each had a different feel, each was beautifully and reverently offered, and each had a sizeable and appreciative congregation. I loved the constant turn over of services and congregations throughout the day. Whatever time one visits there will be devotions or mass in progress. Truly a living church.
Being in London meant there was a glorious opportunity to experience mass in some other wonderful churches. The great Jesuit church of the Immaculate Conception, Farm Street, was no disappointment and I was also touched by the devotion at St James, Spanish Place and the clear preaching and diverse congregation at St Patrick’s, Soho Square. I dropped in to several other places including St Anselm & St Cecilia, Kingsway; the Ordinariate’s church of Our Lady of the Assumption & St Gregory, Warwick St; St Mary’s, Cadogan St; and St Peter’s Italian Church. I glimpsed the Cocteau chapel in Notre Dame, Leicester Place; and the most beautifully restored Corpus Christi, Maiden Lane. One of the most touching experiences was the funeral mass for Mother Simon of the Sacred Heart held at Tyburn Convent, with the nuns coming out of the enclosure to see off their departed sister. I went to an English mass (with a few quirky changes) at the Brompton Oratory and enjoyed visiting that unique 13th Century survivor of active Catholic worship, through all the years of oppression, St Etheldreda’s, Ely Place.