I first saw Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral on the t.v. programme, Salvage Hunters, (aired on 14th September, 2016 on Quest Channel) when Drew and Tee were invited to visit. The Dean showed them round the cathedral and took them down to the crypt to look over some no longer needed items that Drew might want to buy. I was only mildly interested in the pair of rare chairs that Drew acquired, but the cathedral blew me away and, at that time, I never thought it possible that I would soon be visiting it for myself. When I went to Liverpool earlier this year, the Metropolitan Cathedral was the first place I made for.
As I entered the Cathedral, the sight that met me far exceeded my expectations (photographs don’t do it justice) and I wasn’t prepared for the overwhelming beauty and ethereal quality of light – blues and greens, with some touches of red – that flooded the interior. Yes, I’d seen it on television, but this was so much better.
Known locally as ‘Paddy’s Wigwam’, the cathedral stands on the site of the Workhouse which had served the destitute of Liverpool since 1771.
Liverpool’s population increased dramatically after the Irish Potato Famine, which stretched from 1846 to 1852. Many immigrants passed through on their way to Canada and America, but a large number stayed and, by the end of the famine, there was a large established Irish community – 25 per cent of the population was made up of Irish. With the re-establishment of the Catholic hierarchy in England in 1850, the need was felt for a cathedral for the Catholics of Liverpool.
The first cathedral (shown above) was designed by Edward Welby Pugin (1833 – 1875), but it was never completed when other pressing needs, such as parish churches, schools and orphanages came to the attention of the diocese. Only the Lady Chapel and flanking side-chapels were actually built, which became the parish church of Our Lady Immaculate. It served as a local parish church until the 1980s when, weather-beaten and structurally unsafe, it was demolished.
The idea of a cathedral was reborn and in 1930 the diocesan authorities purchased the nine-acre site on Brownlow Hill. Sir Edwin Lutyens was commissioned to design a cathedral to contrast with the gothic Liverpool Anglican Cathedral. The constructed building of Lutyen’s design would have been colossal, as can be seen in the above picture and in the one below, which shows its proposed size in comparison to The Houses of Parliament in London.
The foundation stone was laid on Monday, 5th June, 1933 and work on the crypt continued until 1941, when building ceased during the lead up to the Second World War. After the war, the crypt was completed, but the grandiose Romanesque super-structure that would sit atop the crypt was never to be built as it was now costed at an impossible £27 million. Once again, the dream of a great Catholic Cathedral was put aside.
The next step of the journey took place in 1960 when a competition was proposed, inviting architects all over the world to design a cathedral for Liverpool. Stipulations included that it would need to relate to the existing Crypt, be capable of construction within five years, cost no more than a million pounds at current prices and every member of the congregation should be able to see the altar. There were 300 entries and Sir Frederick Gibberd’s design was chosen. Building began in October 1962 and the completed cathedral was consecrated five years later on 14th May, 1967. At last Liverpool had its Catholic Cathedral, a journey which spanned 200 years.
This remarkable place of worship made such an impression on me that I am beginning to see its image in all sorts of objects.
Left: Plastic funnel for adding salt to dishwasher. Right: Portion of toilet roll carton on top of dessert container (it was Tiramisu, for those interested). When I start making models with my mashed potatoes, that’s when I’ll know I’m in trouble!