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Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Immortality in stone

Wednesday, May 22nd., Trinity Hall Farm, Hockliffe.

Rickards and I, in the evening, went over the vast, unfinished Roman Catholic Cathedral in Victoria Street, and found it distinguished, impressive, a work of great and monumental art.

See also, 'Eating companions' - December 23rd. <http://earnoldbennett.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/eating-companions.html>
and, 'An architectural experience' - December 28th. <http://earnoldbennett.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/an-architectural-experience.html>

The Cathedral Church of Westminster, which is dedicated to the Most Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, was designed in the Early Christian Byzantine style by the Victorian architect John Francis Bentley. In preparation for designing the cathedral, by far his most important commission, Bentley spent several months in Italy. The result was a neo-Byzantine rather than Gothic Revival structure. St Mark's in Venice, San Vitale in Ravenna and St Sophia in Constantinople were among the sources of inspiration for the design. It was an unusual style for an English cathedral, but a sensible way of differentiating it from Westminster Abbey, only a short walk away.The foundation stone was laid in 1895 and the fabric of the building was completed eight years later. The awesome interior of the Cathedral, although incomplete, contains fine marble-work and mosaics. The fourteen Stations of the Cross, by the sculptor Eric Gill, are world renowned.

Bentley, the architect, was wandering under the dome, examining and enjoying his mighty production, the realization of a conception which must live for many centuries. It was an impressive sight to see him, an impressive thought to think that one has seen him so, this magnificent artist, who started his life as a stonemason, and is now slowly dying of cancer on the tongue. He wore a frock coat and a silk hat, but a necktie of black silk tied in a loose bow.

John Francis Bentley, the architect of Westminster Cathedral, was born in 1839 in Doncaster and died on 2 March 1902. In June 1900 the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) held an Architectural Congress, and its first visit was to the incomplete Westminster Cathedral. It was a great success, and at the annual dinner Sir William Blake Richmond, RA (best known as designer of the mosaics of St Paul’s, and later to advise Bentley on mosaic decoration), declared that "he had very rarely been so impressed as when first entering that original and manly structure" two days previously. However, the occasion was marred by the fact that, when Bentley was due to address the visitors, he "discovered that his tongue was powerless", and had to ask Canon Johnson to step in. This was the second attack of the paralysis caused by cancer of the tongue, which was to kill him.

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