St David in the Heart of Westminster
London’s Westminster Cathedral is a fabulous building. If this church was in a Mediterranean city you would have visited it on one of your holidays. But, tucked as it is, just off the pavement between London Victoria station and the UK Houses of Parliament the place remains for many a hidden gem.
It is the mother church for Roman Catholics in England & Wales, and one of the dazzling works of art inside the cathedral is the mosaic of St David, Patron Saint of Wales, by contemporary Welsh artist Ivor Davies.
The mosaic was commissioned by the cathedral and shines in eye-catching silver and gold. A young St David, with shaven head, stands with a dove on his shoulder upon a grassy mound. At the centre of the mound is a lump of dolorite rock from the village of Llanddewi Brefi where, in the 6th century, David famously ministered.
The mosaic was blessed by Pope Benedict in the cathedral on September 18th 2010. A major retrospective exhibition of the work of Ivor Davies called Ivor Davies: Silent Explosion opened at National Museum Cardiff in 2015 and was the largest exhibition dedicated to the work of a single contemporary artist ever held in Wales.
Near to the mosaic of St David, also designed by Ivor Davies and made by Tessa Hunkin, is a mosaic of St Ambrose the 4th century Bishop of Milan. I was taken on a tour of the mosaics by Fr. Michael Donaghy, a cathedral chaplain who told me that the mosaic of St David attracts a special place in the life of the cathedral. On a recent school visit one of the children wrote, “my impression is that the mosaic is the richest mosaic in the cathedral”.
Fr. Michael took me to see the chapel dedicated to the English and Welsh martyrs on the other side of the cathedral, where the names of the six Welsh martyrs are emblazoned in flame on the roof of the chapel. It was in this chapel that Welsh language prayers were offered for the first time in the cathedral’s history. The martyrs Philip Evans and David Lewis both ministered in Welsh and English in the 17th century and Abergavenny born David Lewis was known locally as ‘tad y tlodion’ – ‘father of the poor’.
Phillip Evans was executed in Cardiff for being a Catholic priest. He sang and played the harp as he approached the gallows. He and John Lloyd had both been imprisoned in the Black Tower of Cardiff Castle and a plaque in Cardiff marks the place that they were martyred in 1679.
Hundreds of steps sometimes make church tower ascents quite daunting, but at Westminster Cathedral the main tower has a lift! A 212 feet ascent from the cathedral floor to the top of the tower gave me this panoramic view of central London:
Many thanks to everyone at Westminster Cathedral who welcomed me and made my visit possible. The cathedral is open every day to the public.