14 July 2014

Go to Westminster

A reminder that there is a delightful little permanent exhibition in Westminster Cathedral, well worth its entrance fee.

What strikes you as you enter is a massive and gorgeous monstrance by Omar Ramsden, a characteristic product in Art Nouveau/Arts and Crafts. Go and wonder at it. It encapsulates (I give you my own biased opinion) the entire tragedy of Westminster Cathedral. When the cathedral was planned, there was not enough money to do what many desired: to make it the last great English Gothic cathedral; although, at Southwark, even Hitler has not been able completely to obliterate Pugin's splendours. Nor, apparently did they want the Romanita of the Baroque (that was managed beautifully down at Brompton). I don't know if they ever considered attempting something in the style of the Constantinian basilicas in Rome. Instead of all these possibilities, a curious red-brick Byzantinism was chosen, enabling much of the decoration to be added (or not) by future generations. But the church could have been designed wholeheartedly in the (then up-to-the-moment) style of that wonderful Art Nouveau period 1880-1910. It was possible to do such a thing; we of the Patrimony did it down by the sea, in S Bartholomew's, Brighton, even if that great church is technically unfinished (after all, it rests upon the finances of a mere parish, while Westminster Cathedral was built as the principal church of England and Wales). Ramsden's monstrance would have fitted perfectly into such a church.

The next thing to catch my eye was a superb Spanish sixteenth century cross, 'Toledo', designed to do duty both as a processional cross and as an altar cross. Late medieval in feel with dashes of the Renaissance and of the Moorish. I last saw it, so to speak, at Lancing, where we had an almost identical example ex dono Henrici Martini Gibbs, with the Assumption on the back; it is still used there on the High Altar dedicated to the Assumption.

Presiding over the whole exhibition is a terracotta bust of Mr Archdeacon Manning, dressed like a cardinal. A shame there is no matching bust of Mrs Manning, buried in her country churchyard under the shadow of the South Downs! The exhibition also has a cope of his, allegedly worn at Vatican I, with the motto Malo mori quam foedari. The caption, unless it has been corrected since I was last there [apologies if it has], translates this as "I prefer to die rather than compromise"! Possibly some chappy whose Latin is just the weeniest bit rusty thought that foedari had something to do with foedus/foederis!! Perhaps he's the same bloke who composed the slightly odd 'Latin' inscription in the floor near the Cathedral door commemorating the visit of Pope Benedict XVI (so very inferior to the inspired elegance of the inscription commemorating the visit of S John Paul II: Ecce vestigia etc.) You'd think that in a Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral, even if nobody on the staff is easy with Latin, at least one of them would know someone who was! Veterum Sapientia of Good Pope S John XXIII is still a Magisterial document!

Happily, the Archdiocese of Southwark, just across the water, takes great care to get its latinity correct and elegant. Four cheers for His Grace Archbishop Peter, who also writes such kind, courteous, and fatherly letters to those who have been pleased to do him some service!


Patrick Sheridan said...

Of course, Westminster Abbey is the real "Westminster." You may say it has since become an abode of dragons but to stand before St Edward's Tomb is really to be at the heart of the Realm.

vetusta ecclesia said...

Have you visited Palazzola? There, in true Roman form, the architectural and other achievements of benefactors and rectors are celebrated in Latin on stone. As one whose A level Latin is 50+ years rusty I cannot comment on their elegance or otherwise.