Westminster Cathedral: Dark Bricks

Westminster Cathedral is the centre of Roman Catholicism in England. The Church of England commandeered the nearby Abbey in the sixteenth century and was not presumably keen to give it back when Catholicism was once more tolerated. In early Edwardian times, the Catholics built this red and white stripey cathedral which is rather unusual to say the least.

Inside, one will find the usual trappings of Catholicism, resplendent in gaudy marbles and gold. Above, however, the builders left the dark, undecorated bricks in the upper walls and roof, naked and bare, without a clothing of plaster or paint, much less marble and gold. I find the contrast rather moving, though I suspect it was occasioned by a lack of funds rather than aesthetic intention. The dark gloom adds a rather powerful break to the glitter below.


Beneath this crude brickwork lies the gorgeous Chapel of All Souls, the sign for which explains that:

‘Holy souls are those who have died in the state of grace but who are not free from all punishment due to their unforgiven sins nor sins already forgiven for which satisfaction is still to be made. They are called holy because they are on their way to heaven with no risk at all of failing to reach that goal. First however they must be purged of their sin and its effect in purgatory.’


Theologically, when one peels away the pleasant veneers of Catholic Christianity, you soon come to the ugly brickwork of salvation by works. If Christ died for these souls, why must they now be punished? Why must they make satisfaction for their sins if God is gracious? The Biblical gospel, on the other hand, states that sinners are forgiven freely and entirely without their contributing a thing. Truly, the gospel is scorned as crude and ugly brickwork, but beneath its surface lies gold and precious jewels.