(ES) Simon Jenkins: Our cathedrals lift the spirit, standing proud amid the chaos below

Amazing things happen. Westminster Abbey is building itself a new tower ”” the foundation stone was laid quietly last week by the Prince of Wales. Not since Hawksmoor slapped his pseudo-Gothic towers onto the west front in 1745 has anyone dared such a venture on so hallowed a building. Could this be the start of something new?

Admittedly almost no one will be able to see the structure. Designed by the abbey’s architect, Ptolemy Dean, it is sandwiched at the back of the abbey between the Chapter House and Poets’ Corner. It will give access to the Abbey’s upper triforium, for a new exhibition gallery. But the principle is important. Old buildings need to stay alive. If Hawksmoor thought he could improve on Henry III, we can too.

The abbey was technically a cathedral only under Mary I but everyone regards it as the “cathedral of the nation”. It is one of my favourites, a dotty old bag lady of a place, perpetually rustling through her aisles, chapels, cloisters and mausoleums, like a Dickensian character in search of a secret.

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