A Brief History
THE FIRST CATHEDRAL: Pugin's Lady Chapel
THE SECOND CATHEDRAL: LUTYENS' DREAM - The greatest building never built
The Work House Site
THE THIRD CATHEDRAL: Scott's Reduction
THE FOURTH CATHEDRAL: Gibberd's Reality
In pre-Reformation days Liverpool had no Cathedral. It belonged for several centuries to the Diocese of Lichfield, or Lichfield and Coventry, until, at the Reformation in the time of Henry VIII, it came under the newly constituted Diocese of Chester.
After the Reformation the Roman Catholic religion was proscribed and could only be practised in secret. It was not until the restoration of the hierarchy in 1850 that the normal structure of dioceses was re-established for Catholics. The first Bishop of the new diocese of Liverpool was George Brown, until then Vicar Apostolic or administrator of the Lancashire District of the Catholic Church in England. His Co-adjutor or Assistant Bishop was Alexander Goss.
As a young priest Fr Goss had been a teacher and subsequently Vice-President at the junior seminary for the training of priests which had been set up in 1845 within the walls of one of Liverpool's older mansions, San Domingo House in a road named after it, St Domingo Road. Built by a successful merchant, this stood on a ridge in Everton, commanding a view of the North docks, the River Mersey and the Wirral peninsula.
The Catholic population of Liverpool increased dramatically following the Irish potato famine in 1847, and the restoration of the hierarchy gave Catholics a new status and feeling of confidence. It was no surprise, then, that Co-adjutor Bishop Goss saw the need for a Cathedral. He also saw the ideal site in the grounds of the College at Everton.
The commission to design a Catholic Cathedral for Liverpool was entrusted in 1853 to Edward Welby Pugin (1833-1875), son of Augustus Welby Pugin, foremost architect of the Gothic Revival, who had died in the previous year. The design was a bold one dominated by a massive central steeple. Within three years a usable portion of the building was completed in the form of the Lady Chapel, with an entrance built into the surrounding wall of the College. There it stood for over a century, serving as the church of the local parish of Our Lady Immaculate until the 1980s, when, weather-beaten and structurally unsafe, it was demolished.
Meanwhile the attention of the diocese was concentrated on more pressing needs - parish churches, schools and orphanages - as the Catholic population increased apace.
Sixty-six years were to pass from the completion of the Lady Chapel, covering the notable episcopates of Bishop Bernard O'Reilly and Archbishop Thomas Whiteside, before the idea of a Cathedral was mooted again. It was, however a period of steady expansion and consolidation. In civic terms Liverpool became a city with a Lord Mayor, and ecclesiastically an Archdiocese and Metropolitan See.
It was in 1922 that the second Archbishop, Frederick William Keating, held a consultation to find a suitable memorial to his predecessor, Archbishop Whiteside. The idea of a Cathedral was reborn, and in the six short years before his death £122,000 was subscribed. The promoters favoured a plan of delaying the building until sufficient capital was on hand to go forward without interruption, and so it was left to the next Archbishop to translate hopes into reality.
Dr Richard Downey made a tremendous impact on his appointment as Archbishop in 1928 at the age of 47. His native wit, remarkable eloquence and keen mind soon won for him friends in all sections of the community. Catholics rallied to his leadership with unparalleled enthusiasm. Proof of this was seen within a year of his consecration when 400,000 Catholics assembled at Thingwall Park to celebrate the centenary of Catholic emancipation in 1829. It convinced the Archbishop that the time was ripe to build.
A suitable site seemed to suggest itself on Brownlow Hill. The Poor Law Institution, or Work House, there had been a shelter for Liverpool's destitute from 1771 until 1928 when the revision of the Poor Laws brought the property on to the market. In 1800 one thousand inmates had been on its register, in 1900 over 4000, of whom over half were Catholics. Many of them were Irish people driven from their own country by famine. In 1930 the diocesan authorities purchased the nine acre site for £110,000. Sir Edwin Lutyens, (1869-1944) famous for his palatial country houses, memorials to the fallen of the First World War (including the Whitehall Cenotaph) and the monumental Viceroy's palace in New Delhi, was commissioned to design a cathedral to contrast with the Gothic gem of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott which was rising at the other end of Hope Street, where building had started in 1904. Three years later the foundation stone was laid, on Whit Monday, 5 June 1933. Pathé News recorded this event. At the suggestion of Pope Pius XI the new Cathedral was to be dedicated to Christ the King.
The central feature of his design, he decided, was to be a great dome 168 feet (51 metres) in diameter with an internal height of 300 feet (91 metres). The nave and aisles would consist of a series of barrel vaults running at right angles to each other. The High Altar would be twelve feet (4 metres) above the nave floor and a total of 53 altars would line the nave and transept, apses and sacristies. The height from the lowest step of the Western front to the top of the lantern would be a colossal 520 feet (158 metres). By comparison, the tower of the Anglican Cathedral rises to 331 feet (101.8 metres). It was to have the largest organ in the world.
Inside the West Porch would be the narthex - a great space, wrote Lutyens, which it is proposed shall be open by day and by night, without let or hindrance, and kept warm - a spiritual sanctuary for those cold and destitute. He might have added that it would be a link with the purpose of the site in the past. Building of the Crypt went on apace until 1941 when the war years brought the cessation of building, but the fund happily consolidated. In 36 years it had risen to £934,786 of which a little less than half had been expended. After the war the Crypt was completed and remains part of the present Cathedral, a magnificent fragment of what might have been. But the grandiose romanesque super-structure, the main entrance arch of which could have contained the nearby University's clock tower, was now costed at an impossible £27 million ! Once again the dream was threatened.
At the suggestion of its architect, a huge and elaborate wooden model of Lutyens' cathedral was constructed as a fund raising initiative. This model, second only to that of St Pauls Cathedral, London, was displayed in the Royal Academy in 1933 (the year of the foundation stone laying on Brownlow Hil). The model, after 13 years of reconstruction and repair, is now on view in the Liverpool Museum at the Pierhead in the People's Republic gallery. About 4 metres high and over 5 metres long is was made by the firm of J B Thorp in 1929. The model was the subject of a paper written for the Royal Institute of British Architects and can be accessed here.
THE THIRD CATHEDRAL: Scott's Reduction
Dr William Godfrey, himself Liverpool born, became Archbishop of Liverpool in 1953. It fell to him to make the decision to reduce the project to realistic proportions.
Adrian Gilbert Scott (brother of Giles Gilbert, the architect of the Anglican Cathedral) was commissioned to scale down the Lutyens plans, keeping the massive dome feature, but with a budget of some £4,000,000. But the project meet with heavy criticism and before work could begin Archbishop Godfrey had been translated to the See of Westminster and John Carmel Heenan succeeded as Sixth Archbishop of Liverpool.
This picture shows the relative size of Scott's reduction against the profile of the Lutyens cathedral.
Even more drastic measures, thought Dr Heenan, were necessary if the Catholics of Liverpool were to achieve the realisation of Archbishop Downey's dream slogan A Cathedral in our time. The problem was to be thrown open to competition.
Architects throughout the world were invited in 1960 to design a Cathedral for Liverpool which would relate to the existing Crypt, be capable of construction within five years, cost at the current prices no more than £1,000,000 for its shell, and most important of all, express the new spirit of the liturgy then being radically reformulated by the Second Vatican Council. Of 300 entries from all over the world, Sir Frederick Gibberd's (1908-1984) design was chosen, and building began in October 1962. A Pathé newsreel showed stages of the building process. Less than five years later, on the Feast of Pentecost, 14 May 1967, the completed Cathedral was consecrated. The Papal Legate at the consecration, most appropriately, was His Eminence John Carmel Cardinal Heenan, Archbishop of Westminster, who had been succeeded as Archbishop of Liverpool three years earlier by George Andrew Beck. The long waiting was suddenly over.
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