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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

One Hundred Years Ago: The Consecration of Westminster Cathedral

The then Archbishop Bourne at the Consecration of Westminster Cathedral 1910






Father Ray has highlighted the hundredth anniversary of the Consecration of Westminster Cathedral just this week.

Archbishop Nichols, the present Archbishop led the celebrations.

In the comments section there was an interesting discussion about the original ceremonies of consecration. They lasted three days. Father Ray`s predecessor, Mgr George Wallis was the Master of Ceremonies at the consecration. He certainly had his work cut out for him. He deserved to be made Monsignor just for that.

There is available a description of the original Consecration. For the interest of others I set it out below.

As mentioned in a previous article, Winefride de l`Hopital was the daughter of the architect of the Cathedral, John Francis Bentley

In 1919 she wrote and had published a two volume life of her father and his greatest work, Westminster Cathedral. The book is entitled Westminster Cathedral and its Architect.

Here is her description of the three days of the ceremonies comprising the Consecration of the Cathedral. The ceremonies started on Monday 27th June 1910 and were completed on Wednesday 29th June 1910.

For some reason Archbishop Nichols decided not to repeat the original ceremonies.

"The celebration of the eighth centenary of St. Anselm of Canterbury, which took place in 1909, concludes this brief survey of the main outstanding events in the ceremonial history of the cathedral, previous to the greatest event of all, its consecration and dedication in fee simple to the service of God in June 1910.

A debt of close on £7,000 on the general building fund which still encumbered the fabric had to be liquidated before the long delayed consecration could take place. The Archbishop issued in February a special appeal, and by the end of April every farthing of the debt having been discharged by generous benefactors, nothing further stood in the way of the consecration.

The ceremonies, carried out with the utmost pomp and dignity as befitted the unique occasion, occupied three days.

They began on Monday, June 27th, at 4 o'clock in the afternoon by the Exposition of the Relics in the Cathedral Hall, while Archbishop Bourne entered in procession, and ascended the platform whereon an altar had been erected.

Here he sealed in silver caskets, together with three grains of incense, and an inscribed strip of parchment, the relics of the bodies of the saints intended to be deposited under each of the thirteen altars of the cathedral.

Those for the high altar were relics of four English saints, St. Boniface of Fulda, St. Thomas and St. Edmund of Canterbury, and St. William of York and of the patron of the Archbishop, St. Francis of Sales.

After the sealing of the caskets each was placed on a miniature shrine to await the ceremony of sepulture on the morrow.

The cathedral choir, seated in the body of the hall facing the cathedral clergy, sang the anthem " Justorum Animae," by William Byrd, 1607, during the rite which terminated with the singing of Matins and Lauds.

On Tuesday, June 28th, the Pope gave a special dispensation from the fast of the Vigil of the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul to all those attending the ceremonies of the 28th, a necessary and much appreciated privilege when it is realized that the clergy taking part were on duty for seven and a half hours, and some had fasted as prescribed on the vigil of the ceremony, and the laity, not admitted to the church till eleven o'clock, were there for three and a half hours, preceded by the long and exhausting wait outside in the discomforts of a blazing sun and abnormally high wind.

The rite of consecration was preceded by the office of Prime, sung in the Cathedral Hall at 7 a.m. At half-past seven the consecration ceremonies, full of strange and half-forgotten symbolism, began with the recitation of the seven penitential psalms before the relics.

At eight o'clock the Archbishop, vested in a cope of white gold-embroidered brocade and a plain gold mitre, and carrying his pastoral staff, emerged from the Cathedral Hall, and, accompanied by deacon and sub-deacon vested in albs and preceded by crossbearer and thurifers, walked in procession to the west end of the cathedral, where in these quiet early morning hours the outside ceremonies began.

First the litanies of the saints, then the blessing and mingling of the salt and water, placed on a table outside the great door, wherewith the Archbishop was to sprinkle with a spray of hyssop the outer walls and ground, making, with two acolytes carrying lighted tapers, the three-fold circuit prescribed, symbolic of holy baptism and triple immersion into its saving waters. At the close of each circuit the Archbishop made his claim of admission, knocking at the door once over the threshold with the end of his pastoral staff. The choir formed a wide half-circle around, and at the third time of knocking, on the words " Open, open, open " and the tracing of a cross on the threshold with the end of his staff, the door was thrown wide open by the solitary deacon within, and the procession having entered the empty building, it was again closed, none of the laity, except the masons to fix the altar stones, being allowed to enter.

The third stage of the rite was then begun, the nave having been previously painted with two broad diagonal white paths intersecting at the centre and having heaps of ashes placed thereon at intervals of about 6 ft., a card traced with a letter of the alphabet, Latin or Greek, being placed by each heap. At a faldstool placed at the point of intersection, the Archbishop took his place during the singing of the hymn " Veni Creator," the chanting of the litanies of the saints, and the Canticles of Zacharias.

During this last he set forth with mitre and staff, accompanied by deacon, sub-deacon, crossbearer, and acolytes, towards the west end, and starting from the north-west corner traced the twenty-three letters of the Greek alphabet in the little mounds of ashes set along the prepared path.

Then, returning to the south-west corner, he formed in like manner the twenty-four letters of the Latin alphabet along the second path, this curious ancient ceremony symbolizing the instruction of the newly baptized in the elements of faith and piety ; the crossing of the two lines, it is said, pointing to the cross, i.e. Christ crucified, as the central point of Christian teaching.

The doxology having been intoned three times successively by the celebrant, he proceeded to the exorcism of the salt and water, and the blessing of the ashes, finally mingling all three, and pouring into the water the wine, also hallowed.

The next portion of the ritual was the simultaneous consecration of the altars, the high altar by Archbishop Bourne and the thirteen other altars by thirteen of the bishops present:

1. Altar of the Blessed Sacrament . . Dr. Ilsley, Bishop of Birmingham.
2. Altar of our Lady . Dr. Hedley, Bishop of Newport.
3. Altar of the Sacred Heart and St. Michael Dr. Singleton, Bishop of Shrewsbury.
4. Altar of St. Joseph Dr. Singleton, Bishop of Shrewsbury.
5. Altar of St. Peter in Crypt Dr. Amigo, Bishop of Southwark.
6. Altar of St. George and the English Martyrs . Dr. Mostyn, Bishop of Menevia.
7. Altar of St. Andrew and the Saints of Scotland Dr. Keating, Bishop of Northampton.
8. Altar of St. Patrick and the Saints of Ireland Dr. Lacy, Bishop of Middlesbrough.
9. Altar of St. Paul Dr. Brindle, Bishop of Nottingham.
10. Altar of SS. Gregory and Augustine . Dr. Burton, Bishop of Clifton.
11. Altar of St. Thomas of Canterbury Dr. Casartelli, Bishop of Salford.
12. Altar in the Chapel of the Holy Souls Dr. Collins, Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle.
13. Altar of St. Edmund of Canterbury, in Crypt Chapel Dr. Fenton, Bishop of Amycla.

Next followed the thrice-repeated procession round the interior to sprinkle the walls on their lower part, at the height of a man's face, and again yet higher, the floor being hallowed in like manner from the altar to the main entrance crosswise from side to side and north, east, south, and west.

Then at length were the vast crowds waiting outside the cathedral permitted to take some part in the ceremony, even though it were only that of passive spectators. A great procession of all those taking part in the ceremonial set out to fetch the holy relics from their temporary resting-place in the Cathedral Hall, and to carry them shoulder high in solemn state round the exterior of the church.

It was a marvellously gay yet reverent pageant under the hot June sun, banners and flags waving joyously in the almost too boisterous breeze and every note of colour giving its utmost value to the spectacular sum total of this triumphant progress. The purple-clad macebearer followed by a long line of regulars, Augustinians, Carmelites, Franciscans, Benedictines, Dominicans, Servites, Passionists, Oratorians, Redemptorists, and Jesuits in their habits, and of secular clergy in cassocks and cottas, called vividly to memory with a poignant sense of loss a similar procession winding round an empty site, where, fifteen years since, founder and architect had stood together beside a great granite block, the corner-stone of the noble sanctuary to be.

Canons representative of all the dioceses of England walked next preceding the relics laid on four biers, surmounted by silken canopies and borne on the shoulders of young priests, attended by thurifers. Next, mitred and vested in rich copes, came the twelve bishops-consecrators, and lastly Archbishop Bourne, bearing his pastoral staff, and attended by eight papal chamberlains in scarlet uniforms with swords and white plumed cocked hats.

The beautiful and appropriate words of the four antiphons appointed by the rubric were sung by the choir as the procession moved on its way. The circuit of the walls completed and the great doors regained, above which the Union Jack and the Papal Flag flew side by side, the Archbishop took his seat on a faldstool there set, and gave the prescribed exhortation to reverence in consecrated churches, followed by the anointing of the door with chrism in the sign of the cross. The procession with the relic biers then entered the church, and deposited them upon the altar.

Then the thirteen bishops-consecrators, taking their thirteen several caskets of relics, carried them in procession to their respective altars, and began at once the ceremonial of deposition.

At this point the patient laity were admitted, several thousand chairs to accommodate them having been arranged while the procession was in progress outside. In a small sepulchre hollowed in the centre on the top of each marble altar the silver casket was placed, and the cavity closed by a slab, secured with the prepared mortar, each celebrant being attended by a mason to complete the work, a privilege reserved at the high altar for Osmond Bentley, son of the architect.

Then followed all the long ritual of incensing, anointing the altars, accompanied with many psalms, antiphons, and prayers ; then the unction of the twelve consecration crosses ' of stone affixed to the walls. Next, on the altars, took place the burning of the five crosses of tapers and incense, and further anointing of their stones, terminating with the vesting of the altars and blessing of their altarcloths, vases, and ornaments.

Over six hours had this ancient and wonderful ceremonial lasted, when at length the Pontifical Mass of the Dedication was begun.

It was celebrated by Dr. Cotter, Auxiliary Bishop of Portsmouth (Dr. Cahill, the Bishop of this diocese who was to have sung it being incapacitated by illness), in the presence of the Archbishop of Westminster and twenty-six bishops and abbots assembled in the sanctuary.

The music, exquisitely rendered in spite of intense fatigue by the cathedral choir, was the " Missa Quinti Toni " by Orlando di Lasso (1520-1594) and the motet " Elegi abjectus esse" for five voices by Peter Philips, an English ecclesiastic of the sixteenth century.

Thus was forged another link in the chain of continuity, for the rite of consecration of Westminster Cathedral in the year of grace 1910 was identical with that by which Westminster Abbey was hallowed in 1065, nearly eight hundred and fifty years before. The musical tones of the great bell Edward in the tower dedicated appropriately to the sainted builder of the abbey church, were heard for the first time at the Elevation during this Mass of Dedication of Westminster Cathedral.

At half-past two the Archbishop gave the final benediction, and the huge congregation dispersed for a time for rest and refreshment.

At seven o'clock the cathedral was again crowded for vespers and benediction, sung in the presence of the Archbishop and the Hierarchy. During the service the Bishop of Clifton ascended the pulpit, to read the following message received from Pope Pius X:

" To his Grace the Archbishop of Westminster, at the Archbishop's House, Westminster—The Holy Father, present in spirit at to-day's solemn consecration of Westminster Cathedral, whilst the sweet strains of their hymns still resound in the ears of the faithful, begs God that He would ever hear their prayers from the throne of His glory on high. His Holiness, whilst he thanks your Grace for the gift of the volume relating to to-day's event, lovingly imparts to you, to the bishops, to the clergy, and the whole people of your archdiocese his apostolic blessing."

The bishop also read the text of the telegram to be despatched in response :

" The Archbishop of Westminster, together with his chapter, clergy, and people, and the bishops of England, together with their chapters, have received the message and blessing of the Holy Father with feelings of the greatest gratitude. They tender to him the expression of their most devoted attachment both to Peter and to Peter's successor."

On Wednesday, June 29th, the feast of the apostles St. Peter and St. Paul and the anniversary of the laying of the first stone, was celebrated with high pomp the Diamond Jubilee of the Restoration of the Hierarchy in England.

Matins, Lauds, and Prime were sung at 8.45.

At 10 o'clock solemn Terce, chanted entirely in Gregorian, was followed by a procession round the cathedral, the Archbishop wearing the pallium while the episcopate were all vested in scarlet copes and gold mitres, making a vivid and picturesque scene. The hymn during the procession was " Felix per omnes."

High Mass was then sung by the Archbishop of Westminster in the presence of three archbishops—of the titular sees of Trebizond, Ptolemy, and Seleucia—twenty bishops, eight abbots, and hundreds of the clergy, secular and regular.

The vast lay congregation included Sir John Knill, Bt., Lord Mayor of London, in his state robes of black and gold, and Lady Knill ; the Mayors of Darlington, Oswestry, and Hyde, wearing their red robes and chains of office ; most of the Catholic peers, and many other founders of the cathedral, representatives of religious orders of women, and an immense number of men and women of all classes.

The cathedral was open free, but to regulate the crowd it was necessary to admit only ticket-holders to the nave ; a certain number of reserved seats at a guinea for the two days were sold, however, towards defraying the heavy expenditure entailed.

The music for the High Mass was William Byrd's setting for five voices, the motet chosen being Palestrina's six-part " Tu es Petrus." The sermon on this auspicious occasion was preached by Dom Hedley, O.S.B,, Bishop of Newport, who seven years earlier had spoken the panegyric of the dead Cardinal Founder [Vaughan] in that same place. He took for his text the words from Joshua iii. 6, " Take ye the Ark of the Covenant, and go before the people."

The offices of Sext and None followed the Mass.

At four o'clock in the afternoon vespers were sung, and benediction given by the Bishop of Birmingham, and so the great festival drew to its close.

No words could exaggerate the striking beauty and solemnity with which the high ceremonies of this historic occasion had been ordered and performed. Their memory will live unfadingly in the minds of those privileged to be present.

That the occasion should also be celebrated in some social manner was assuredly fitting. Sir John Knill came forward as host, and issued invitations to a great banquet at the Mansion House " to meet Archbishop Bourne and the Roman Catholic Bishops." The flower of the Catholic body in England were assembled, and the usual loyal toasts were drunk and honoured.

Thus the day of consecration so long delayed and so ardently desired passed into the realm of achievement and the roll of history. There remains to be fulfilled the adornment of the great church's interior, a consummation which eyes now living may scarcely hope to see, but a splendid and unique opportunity for generations yet unborn to prove their faith and gratitude. May these artists of the future be endowed with reverence and understanding of the spirit of Bentley's noble idea ; far better else the puritan coat of whitewash advocated by some for walls and domes alike to preserve their simple grandeur.

Founder and architect both sleep far from the stately walls they reared ; but effigy and chantry perpetuate Vaughan's memory within them. Though Bentley's name, like those of the cathedral architects of old, is unrecorded on tomb or tablet, surely the waters of oblivion will never roll over it. Well might he say, as Wren before him, " Si monumentum requiris, circumspice," for the cathedral itself shall be his monument, great and enduring."


Part of the Consecration Ceremony in 1910

For further information and some great photographs of the consecration see Catholic with Attitude