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Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral: my favourite building

CNN's top 10 monstrosity is Larry Neild's Heavenly body

Written by . Published on January 16th 2012.

Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral: my favourite building

IS Liverpool’s Roman Catholic Cathedral really one of the 10 ugliest buildings on the planet? That’s what US news network CNN is saying.

Yes, the cathedral is not everybody’s cup of tea, you either love or loathe it – but it cannot be described as “monstrous”.

I’ve described the cathedral – which I hereafter refuse to refer to as “Paddy’s Wigwam” – as the only decent major work of architecture in Liverpool since World War II.

Whether the new Museum of Liverpool, itself crawling with controversy, earns architectural praise this year remains to be seen.

I adore traditional architecture and Liverpool is fortunate to have a vast collection of glorious buildings.

Yet as a piece of modernist design, the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral Church of Christ the King is Heavenly.

It’s exterior has earned its rightful place on Liverpool’s skyline, its interior, with its vast circular space and amazing stained windows, is even better.

Maybe we should thank CNN – by highlighting it in a top-10 list, the broadcaster has provided worldwide exposure for the cathedral

Yet, in an online travel feature CNN, charts the cathedral number seven in its list of 10 of the world’s ugliest buildings.

“There are some monstrous examples of civic architecture in the West – this prime example of late 1960s design being an unlovely case in point. Far from conjuring examples of Heavenly repose, the church is more akin to a giant concrete tent.”

I demand a visit by CNN new boy Piers Morgan to visit the cathedral, climb into the confessional and offer a humble apology on behalf of his paymasters for this incredible attack.

God won’t be pleased and there’ll be people at CNN’s headquarters fearing they’ll be shown the door when they reach the pearly gates.

I’m not a Catholic, but I personally find the cathedral more peaceful and calming than the big house at the other end of Hope Street.

It had its problems in the 1990s when the roof started to leak, but that has been resolved.

The stairway to the main entrance is awesome, something everyone should aim to climb at least once in their lives.

Had it not been for the outbreak of World War II, visitors may now well be gazing at what would have been the second largest church in the world – and a match for the Vatican's finest.

Liverpool_PostcardThe Lutyens model would have dwarfed the Anglican Cathedral

Sir Edwin Lutyens' blueprint boasted the world’s largest dome. Its diameter was to be 168 feet – more than 30 feet bigger than that on St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Work started on Lutyens' would-be masterpiece on Whit Monday in 1933, with money raised by Liverpool’s massive army of working-class worshippers.

Costs escalated from an estimated £3m to £27m and, coupled with the outbreak of war, work stopped. At today’s prices the final bill would have been almost a billion pounds.

Although work on the crypt resumed in the 1950s, it was not until the 1960s  - more than a century after the dream of a cathedral was first mooted – that a building emerged.

In 1959, after expectations were revised, Sir Frederick Gibberd won a worldwide contest for his circular design. One of the requirements was the new building had to incorporate Lutyens’ crypt.

Gibberd’s response was a church with the altar at the centre. Unlike it’s handcut-sandstone stone neighbour, the Metropolitan cathedral is built in concrete, clad in Portland stone - a starkness possibly responsible for much of the criticism.

Gibberd was aware of the limited budget, after another appeal to all Catholics to weigh in their gold and gems to pay for it.

Cnn_CenterCNN's HQ in AtlantaThe diameter of the cathedral at its widest point is 195ft, not much smaller than what would have been the size of the doomed dome.  Instead of a dome the building has its now familiar truncated cone  lantern tower, topped by a crown of “thorns”.

The building is supported by 16 concrete trusses, held in place by two ring beams. Around the perimeter are 13 small chapels.

Maybe we should thank CNN – by highlighting it in a top-10 list, the broadcaster has provided worldwide exposure for the cathedral.

And finally ..... my nomination for the world’s ugliest building – the CNN headquarters in Atlanta. It’s an ugly mountain of concrete.


A Cathedral Of Our Times

1850s: Idea for an RC cathedral is first mooted as thousands of Catholics from Ireland, escaping the potato famine, swell Liverpool’s population. A site in St Domingo Road, Everton is earmarked.

1853: Edward Welby Pugin is commissioned to design a cathedral, but money runs out after the eastern chapels are completed. They later form part of the Our Lady Immaculate church until, in the 1980s, it is demolished. Well this is Liverpool after all.

1930: Liverpool Archdioces, led by dynamic Archbishop Richard Downey, buys nine acres of land in Brownlow Hill, formerly the site of the Liverpool Workhouse. It hires Sir Edwin Lutyens to design a cathedral. The brief – to come up with something that will match or outclass Giles Gilbert Scott’s Anglican cathedral taking shape along at the other end of Hope Street.

1941: Downey's stated aim had been “to design a cathedral in our time”. But time runs out. Work on Lutyens mammoth is halted, three years before his death.

Being BuiltBeing Built1953: Adrian Gilbert Scott, brother of Giles, is commissioned to design a cheaper cathedral on the site. The dome would have survived, but his plans face criticism and go no further.

1958: Work on Lutyens crypt  is completed – the only part of his design to survive.

1959: Sir Frederick Gibberd wins a competition to design a new Metropolitan Cathedral – with work starting in 1962.

1967: The cathedral is consecrated on  May 14, 1967.

1982: Pope John Paul visits the cathedral.

2003: New steps to main entrance from Hope Street designed by local firm Falconer Chester.

2009  £3m refurbishment of Lutyens’ crypt.

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12 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Dingle View.January 17th 2012.

The people from CNN obviously missed the new Ferry Terminal and probably never even visited Liverpool, but thanks for the publicity, it all helps.

AnonymousJanuary 17th 2012.

Why do you not like it being called 'Paddy's wigwam?
I think it is quite fitting tribute that it was a large portion of poor Irish catholics who sold their wedding rings to raise the money to help build this building. I don't know why people get upset by this expression, I married in the building on 'Paddy's Day' 17 years ago. Do you not like 'Dockers Umbrella' either?. It's not an attack on you, but I'm just interested as to why people don't like the expression. I think they should paint it papal purple to liven iup the outside, but as for the rest of the building, it seems absolutely fine.

AnonymousJanuary 17th 2012.

all Cathedrals and churches by their nature are ugly, in my opinion.

My rationale here is somewhere along the lines of the old adage that nothing that is useless can be truly beautiful.

We all now accept that the Norse god 'Thor' does not exist, nor the Roman god Zeus. Belief in them declined as sharply as the civilisations which invented them.

Were we now, in the modern era, to build an homage to either of those gods, it would be seen as an atrocious waste of resources and a useless building.

So it is with our 'Christian' god. When our civilisation fades and is replaced with something else, belief in this fictional being will also be consigned to the dustbin of history and the building devoted to it will crumble and fall.

While we are celebrating non-existent sentient beings with entirely useless works of architecture, why not erect a shrine to the tooth fairy. After all, what a useful service she provides, exchanging our children's teeth for money.

As for the building, perhaps the poor Catholic Irish immigrants (from whom I myself descend) who sacrificed so much to get this cathedral, would have been better served with a hospital or a school or both to help alleviate the terrible conditions and inequality in which they had to survive.

Just a thought.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousJanuary 17th 2012.

You are absolutely right, re hospital or scholl, but unfortunately the church had such a strong hold over the people, and heaped on catholic guilt that they just went along with it.

Ernest MartinJanuary 31st 2012.

"..............nothing that is useless can be truly beautiful."

"Nothing" is neither useless or useful because "nothing" does not exist.

By your rationale you must be pig ugly.

Absinthe & TurksJanuary 17th 2012.

Love it or loathe it you can't deny it isn't an attention-grabber. In the 2009 Moscow Eurovision Song Contest the cathedral formed a sizeable part of the symbol for Great Britain. Something that would never happen were the contest to take place in that London.

AnonymousJanuary 18th 2012.

The cathedral costs £2,000 just to keep going. Imagine the cost if the massive Lutyens building had been finished. We couldn't afford to run it. On a general note the people at CNN are just being silly, but the publicity generated ois good. No such thing as bad news.

DigApril 3rd 2012.

Americans. What do they know about history and culture? Don't tell my Aunt JB I said that...
Most Americans and culture. It's just like taking a bunch of 4 year olds to The Walker.

DigApril 6th 2012.

Nothing that is useless can be beautiful? All art and music is essentially useless. However, if it gives only 1 person pleasure it cannot be deemed to be useless. Therefore nothing is useless and everything is beautiful.

John Lennon AirportApril 6th 2012.

Well said Dig. You are wasted in that Honda showroom

DigApril 6th 2012.

Yeah I thought so too. That's why I left 14 months ago!

John Lennon AirportApril 6th 2012.

Did you go of your own Accord?

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