London's Westminster Cathedral is the leading Catholic Church in England. The Benedictine monks who built and owned Westminster Abbey reclaimed part of the marsh around Westminster. Over the centuries, the land has had several uses. The monks operated a market and a fairgrounds there. After the Protestant Reformation in England, the land was used as a maze, a pleasure garden, and as a bull-baiting ring.
Westminster Abbey (by that time property of the Church of England) sold the land for use as a prison. When the prison was retired approaching the turn of the 19th century, the Roman Catholic Church acquired the land in 1884 for a new major Cathedral Church. It is actually one of the newest major churches in London. Its design, by John Francis Bently, is based on early Christian Byzantine architecture, with a strikingly tall bell tower. Its foundation stone was laid in 1895, and the Cathedral was consecrated in 1910. Its interior is not yet completed.
From the initial planning of the Cathedral by Cardinal Herbert Vaughan, music was given great weight in the church's activities. Cardinal Vaughan had been inspired by the Solesmes Abbey's revival of Gregorian Chant and by the accomplishments of the Anglican Church's choral tradition. Music is the largest single item in the Cathedral's budget. It operates a full-time choral school for its choristers. Westminster Cathedral is the only church in the world that celebrates a fully sung Mass every day.
The Westminster Cathedral Choir, among a few others, can credibly be called the best choir in Europe. Sir Richard Terry, the church's first Master of Music, was a devoted scholar of pre-Baroque polyphonic church music and revived choral masterpieces of Tudor-era English composers and their contemporaries on the Continent. He also vigorously championed new composition. Over the years composers of the stature of Ralph Vaughan Williams, Lennoc Berkeley, Gustav Holst, Benjamin Britten, Herbert Howells, William Mathias, and David Sanger have composed for the Cathedral Choir
It made one of the earliest British choral recordings, an acoustic disc cut in 1908. In the compact disc age, it has made a highly acclaimed series of recordings for the British label Hyperion, ranging in repertory from Renaissance polyphony to music of Britten, Poulenc, Langlais, and Stravinsky. It sings concerts and tours as its church service schedule permits, and frequently broadcasts. It joined the Choir of St. Paul's Cathedral (the largest Anglican Church) in 1992 to inaugurate that church's newly-restored organ. ~ Joseph Stevenson