Westminster Cathedral is one of the most extraordinary churches in the world: visitors to London walking along Victoria Street are astonished by the sight of its great campanile and the glorious Byzantine pastiche of its exterior. There is more than a whiff of Constantinople and Venice about Bentley's creation, to say nothing of the odour of sanctity inside. The nave — the widest in England — breathes new life into the phrase "sacred space": the contrast between the richness of the mosaic and the unfinished brickwork is a unique testimony to the immense scale of our task in conveying — as we must — the grandeur of God's glory through the media of religious art.
Westminster Cathedra] is the mother church of every Catholic in England and Wales, and a refuge for every visitor of every faith. And it is also a happy and productive religious community. Is there a metropolitan cathedral anywhere in the Catholic world, one wonders, that functions so naturally and vibrantly as a parish? For this, enormous credit must go to Mgr Mark Langham, the administrator, who works tirelessly to preserve high standards of liturgy and to protect the Cathedral's musical heritage.
The problem is that we take this wonder for granted. As we report today, the fabric of Westminster Cathedral is under such strain that. without urgent repair, the building could be forced to close within a decade. Obviously it would not be destroyed, but it could be-lost to us for many years, which would be a disaster — a near-mortal blow to the self-confidence of the Catholic community, and not just in London.
The dome must be fortified; the electrical system must be replaced; leaks must be sealed; the great three-ton Rood must be secured. The Cathedral needs £3 million, not for decorative work, but to keep the building in running order. And it needs the money now. That is why The Catholic Herald will do everything it can, over the coming months and years, to speed up the flow of money into the Cathedral's repair fund.
Mgr Langham is pitching this appeal exactly right, in our opinion. Yes, he is approaching City firms and banks; he does not rule out professional fundraisers and he will approach English Heritage. But he is looking to us — to you — to respond to the appeal; for one of the foundations of England's great Catholic buildings is the small donations of many faithful worshippers. The intrinsic democracy and spirituality of this appeal is underlined by Mgr Langham's commitment never to install turnstiles or impose entry charges. Quite right.
Westminster Cathedral attracts tourists, but it will never become a tourist attraction. It might, however, be turned into an empty building. To stop that happening, please give generously.