When perusing tourists’ sites online, I found a webpage for the “Top 10 London Attractions” offering a variety of intriguing options: the London Eye, Tower of London, Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral.
As my own European adventure was around the corner, I wanted to find historic sites where I could learn more about my Catholic faith. Based on this desire, the Tower of London was a destination I hoped to visit — the infamous tower of death where Sts. John Fisher and Thomas More, the bishop and statesman, were martyred (the Church remembers them each June 22).
Standing outside of the Tower of London, most tourists seemed to be beckoned by the crown jewels and the structure of the palace itself. However, I found it hard to separate this from the reality that the Tower was also the location where King Henry VIII beheaded two of his former friends.
Bishop Fisher used the pulpit as a means to courageously and boldly speak publicly against divorce. Thomas More, lord chancellor with the English Parliament, was a loving husband, father and faithful follower of Christ — and boldly spoke about the Church’s teachings on marriage, too. He was — as his last words attest — “The king’s good servant, but God’s first.”
The stark contrast of Catholic history and modernity is commonplace as you walk through the streets of London away from the Tower and toward another Catholic site I wanted to visit: Westminster Cathedral. This cathedral is often confused with the famous Westminster Abbey, the now-Anglican church where Prince William and Kate Middleton were married.
Westminster Cathedral is the mother church for the Roman Catholics in England and Wales.
It is located about 400 yards west of the abbey and situated directly across from Cardinal Place, a structure of massive glass buildings that one may call “man’s cathedral” — a retail and office development that is home to fancy shopping and trendy restaurants.
With my back to Cardinal Place, I meandered the few yards down Cathedral Walk, through Cathedral Piazza, and there I stood, face-to-face with one of the busiest churches in the United Kingdom.
People the world over visit this holy place. Over the course of a typical day, there are at least six Masses (with one in Latin), Morning Prayer and vespers.
It is also beautiful to behold: One hundred twenty-six varieties of marble from 24 countries adorn the interior. Upon entering through the main entrance, I stood in front of two red columns that were placed as a reminder that the cathedral is dedicated to the Precious Blood.
My favorite memory of walking into Westminster Cathedral is the scent of candles and incense. As I reflected, this Psalm came to mind: “Let my prayer be incense before you; my uplifted hands an evening offering” (141:2).
I further reflected on prayer in Edinburgh, Scotland, with the aid of Our Lady, St. Andrew and St. John Paul II. After the Protestant and Scottish Reformation, the originally Roman Catholic country of Scotland became heavily Presbyterian. Despite the many “Churches of Scotland,” a beautiful cathedral church still stands in the Archdiocese of St. Andrews and Edinburgh — it is named St. Mary’s, in honor of our Blessed Mother.
The first Mass was celebrated in August 1814. With the re-establishment of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Scotland in 1878 under Pope Leo XIII, the church became the pro-cathedral of the new Archdiocese of St. Andrews and Edinburgh. So, in the late 19th century, the cathedral was given a dignity worthy of its name. During this time, the walls on the sides of the church were made into considerably sized arches.
Later, panels turned into the setting for the Stations of the Cross; they were built as a memorial to the men of the parish who were killed in the First World War.
The cathedral was solemnly dedicated in April 1978, and a chapel was dedicated to the nation’s patron, St. Andrew. Up until 1918, the feast of St. Andrew was celebrated as a holy day of obligation in Scotland. The X-shaped cross upon which he was martyred has become a symbol of the saint and now appears on the national flag of Scotland, also known as the Saltire. The Chapel to St. Andrew was visited by Pope St. John Paul II in May 1982 during his pastoral visit to Scotland.
While in Edinburgh, John Paul II addressed the young people of Scotland. He said that he understood they were experiencing a “great crossroads” in their lives and needed to decide how they wanted their future to be lived out. His advice to the youth was: “You must never think that you are alone in deciding your future! And secondly: When deciding your future, you must not decide for yourself alone!” He went on to speak of St. Andrew as an example of why we ought to rely on Another.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 14, Jesus accepts the five loaves and two fish from a small boy. St. Andrew said to Jesus, “What is that between so many?” But Jesus showed he cannot be outdone in generosity by feeding the 5,000.
With St. Andrew in mind, John Paul said to the young people of Edinburgh, “Place your lives in the hands of Jesus. He will accept you, and bless you, and he will make such use of your lives as will be beyond your greatest expectations!”
This address struck me in the chapel of St. Andrew, which was originally dedicated to the Sacred Heart, in his national shrine. Spending a few moments here, where Pope St. John Paul II prayed when he visited, is where I was most moved during my visit.
An icon and two relics of St. Andrew are venerated here. In the icon, he is shown wearing a cloak of green and red to call to mind his martyrdom. The gold-leaf background signifies God’s mystery, while the red pattern at the top of the icon is a reminder that it is through the spilling of Jesus’ blood that our salvation is possible.
I spent time reflecting on St. Andrew, asking him to intercede for the intentions of my good friend Andrew. I left the chapel with a warmth in my soul and a confidence that my prayer request was both heard and my friend would be taken care of.
Susanna Bolle writes from
St. Paul, Minnesota.