No.14: Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral
issue 43 Jun / Jul 2008
In this issue, Lisa Hammond of Gravity Lighting choses her favourite combination of light and architecture
I know exactly what Lisa means, after suffering from some unremembered late teen angst (unrequited love? - I think I followed a boy to Liverpool), I spent an afternoon in this building. Such was its spell that my epiphany that nothing really mattered was definitely down to the amazing colour and light show revealed to those who sit and wait.
Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King (to give it its full name) was consecrated in May 1967, its completion taking four attempts and over a hundred years to come to fruition. The Catholic population of Liverpool increased dramatically following the Irish potato famine in 1847 and in 1853 Bishop Goss decided the need for a Cathedral and awarded the commission for the building to Edward Welby Pugin. When only the Lady Chapel of the new cathedral had been completed, financial constraints ceased building works and the chapel became the church of the local parish until its demolition in the 1980s. The desire to create a Catholic Cathedral for the people of Liverpool was revived in 1930 when fashionable Sir Edwin Lutyens was commissioned to provide a design which would work in harmony with Gilbert Scott’s neo-gothic Anglican cathedral located at the other end of Hope Street. Lutyens planned an ambitious structure that if realised would have become the second-largest church in the world and housed the world’s largest dome, 60 foot higher than St. Peter’s in Rome. Again financial troubles and the interval of the Second World War curtailed the plan after construction of the crypt. Adrian Gilbert Scott, (brother of Giles) was commissioned in 1953 to work on a smaller more modest cathedral design. He proposed a scaled-down version of Lutyens’ building, retaining the massive dome. His plans were criticised and the project shelved.
Then in 1960, a competition was launched to achieve the realisation of Archbishop Downey’s dream slogan ‘A Cathedral in our time’. Architects were invited to design a Cathedral which would relate to the existing Crypt, be capable of construction within five years and cost no more than one million pounds. Out of 300 entries, the design of Sir Frederick Gibberd (architect of Heathrow Airport and Regent’s Park Mosque) was chosen, and building began in 1962. Less than five years later, the completed Cathedral opened its doors.
The circular nave is the most unusual and modern part of the Cathedral. Its purpose is to associate the 2,300 members of the congregation as closely as possible with the celebrant. Chapels are located between the sixteen buttresses which support the tent-shaped spire and represent ‘crown of thorns’ and this roof is the largest of its kind in world. It is topped by a lantern made up of sections of four inch thick stained glass in a kaleidoscope of colours which, when internally lit of an evening, can be seen across Liverpool and beyond its borders.
The vertical stained glass windows which run from ground floor up to roof level are in varying shades of blue and it’s the cool coloured light that floods through these that gives the interior its calm and serene ambiance.
The church’s concrete exterior has had problems with deterioration and suffers from leaks. A new stepped approach has recently been built as part of a multi-million pound restoration.
“The Roman Catholic cathedral of Liverpool is more commonly known by the locals as ‘paddy’s wigwam’ and is a huge circular gothic/modernist structure. This teepee shaped building is the second of Liverpool’s cathedrals and definitely the more architecturally controversial. I vaguely remember phrases such as ‘its well ugly’, ‘flippin massive’ and ‘doesn’t look like a church to me’ being the initial reactions of my fellow school mates (when we got off the coach to be dragged, involuntarily, around ‘another boring building’).
Along with my friends, my first reaction to this huge structure was that of monolithic grey and the strange feeling that this building had some how just landed! On entering the building though, the first impression of the exterior’s concrete mass evaporates into a kaleidoscope of glass and light. The natural way of lighting the interior is fundamental to the building’s design, whether the North West sky is at its bleakest or the sun is cracking the flags, the interior remains constantly bright and uplifting. With its circular seating arrangement, centralised alter, modern tapestries and multi-coloured windows this cathedral is definitely the hippy younger brother of the Liverpool pair.
I defy you, religious or not, to leave paddy’s wigwam without the uplifting feeling that you have spent half an hour in a building that is much deserved of its crown.”
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