18 February 2021, The Tablet

It must have been enclosed stoves that thawed the limbs of churchgoers

It must have been enclosed stoves that thawed the limbs of churchgoers

Westminster City Council is selling off street signs. Abbey Road is expected to go for £2,000, but there’s also one from the street in which Westminster Cathedral stands, Ambrosden Avenue: estimate £80-£120.

In Hitchcock’s 1940 film Foreign Correspondent, a shot from the cathedral campanile (from which a man plunges to his death) shows a sign for Ambrosden Avenue, and a line of coalhole covers supplying the mansion flats that poured forth smoke day and night to obscure with soot the stripy white and red of the tower.

The sign on the cathedral side of the road figures in a shot of two nuns of the Daughters of Charity with their extra­ordinarily exuberant wimples, at the usual entrance to the place at that time.

Above that side doorway, two years after Hitchcock’s Requiem Mass at the cathedral in 1980, a mosaic tympanum of lettering was made, to mark the visit of Pope John Paul II. It was designed by the epigrapher and friend of David Jones, Nicolete Gray: “Porta sis ostium pacificum per eum qui se ostium appellavit, Jesum Christum” – “May this door be the gate of peace through him who called himself the gate, Jesus Christ.” That doorway is now blocked up to accommodate a gift shop, so I’m not sure with what degree of irony the inscription should be taken.

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