Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral

Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral is a Roman Catholic cathedral in Liverpool, Merseyside, England. The cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of Liverpool and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Liverpool.

The present cathedral was designed by Sir Frederick Gibberd (1908–84). Construction began in October 1962 and less than five years later, on the Feast of Pentecost 14 May 1967, the completed cathedral was consecrated. Soon after its opening, it began to exhibit architectural flaws. This led to the cathedral authorities suing Frederick Gibberd for £1.3 million on five counts, the two most serious being leaks in the aluminium roof and defects in the mosaic tiles, which had begun to come away from the concrete ribs.

The cathedral had been built quickly and economically, and this led to problems with the fabric of the building, including leaks. The cost of the repairs was so substantial that it was considered for demolition, but government funding enabled a programme of repairs that carried out during the 1990s. The building had been faced with mosaic tiles, but these were impossible to repair and they were replaced with glass-reinforced plastic, which gave it a thicker appearance. The aluminium in the lantern was replaced by stainless steel, and the slate paving of the platform was replaced with concrete flags.

The focus of the interior is the altar which faces the main entrance. It is made of white marble from Skopje, Macedonia, and is 10 feet (3 m) long. The floor is also of marble in grey and white designed by David Atkins. The benches, concentric with the interior, were designed by Frank Knight. Above is the tower with large areas of stained glass designed by John Piper and Patrick Reyntiens in three colours, yellow, blue and red, representing the Trinity. The glass is 1 inch (3 cm) thick, the pieces of glass being bonded with epoxy resin, in concrete frames.
There is something about this cathedral that is too proud, and I suspect that humility was not on the mind of the architect when he designed it.  One consequence of his hubris is a magnificent building that unquestionably serves its function, to inspire awe and devotion amongst the laity.  The other consequence is a 1.5 million pound debt that the church still owes to some unfortunate financier or contractor.  The business of building for God is far from a spiritual exercise, and when the court gets involved, you can bet that it got ugly. 
I would have liked to attend mass to hear the organ and more than a thousand people congregrate and sing in unison.  It must be quite a trip...  I have to admit that it looks and feels more like an alien spaceship rather than a Catholic cathedral.  Perhaps, during the era when it was commissioned, the church was trying to be more progressive in its mindset, and may have gotten a bit carried away on the magic carpet.  

Around the perimeter is a series of chapels. Some of the chapels are open, some are closed by almost blank walls, and others consists of a low space under a balcony. Opposite the entrance is the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, above which is the organ. Other chapels include the Lady Chapel and the Chapel of St Joseph. To the right of the entrance is the Baptistry.

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