Earlier this year, when I showed you Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral, I said we’d be back to take a look at its Roman Catholic counterpart, down the other end of Hope Street. Yesterday, on a sopping wet day of constant rain this happened. It also happened to be Sarah’s birthday.
But before we get to the relatively modern Catholic cathedral that ended up getting built, I want to show you what might have been. And then pay a visit to a bit of this ‘might have been’ that is almost secretly there, underneath the modern reality.
In the 1930s, Edwin Lutyens, the architect who designed the Cenotaph and much of New Delhi, designed what would have been the largest cathedral in the world. Work began on the foundations and the crypt, while money began to be raised for the rest of the structure. World War Two then interrupted the building works. And then post-war austerity and changing tastes ended them altogether.
The crypt was roofed over, and come 1967 a more modest and modern cathedral had been erected on top. I was an altar boy at the opening celebrations in May 1967. Just a couple of years before my early faith in the Catholic religion faded away for good.
And in the years that followed the vast structure of the Lutyens crypt slept on under the modern cathedral, almost unnoticed by most of the people of Liverpool.
Recently, though, the great crypt has been joined to the ‘new’ cathedral. So, robbed of our planned Sarah’s birthday walk on the Shining Shore by the torrential rain, we set off on what would be her first visit to the Lutyens Crypt. The new Crypt entrance and stairs seen here on a much sunnier day than we had yesterday.
You go in through the main doors of the cathedral, pay your £3 each and begin your descent into a dream of what might have been. Down into the basement of an unfinished story.
And it really is like one huge, mostly underground cathedral. There is no single, great, gathering space. Just corridor after corridor of vast,brick and pillared archways. We are, after all, standing in the foundations of the biggest cathedral in the world.
Some of the space is used for an exhibition of the history of the place. There’s a performance space with a Steinway grand piano on the stage. And part of it is clearly a working chapel, lit by candles. But most of it is gloriously empty.
And, having no religious faith, either of us, how come we like the place so much? Well, I suppose like all great buildings, we appreciate the human imaginations that made it and constructed it. We enjoy what being in the space feels like. The sound of almost silence. The peace of a thing done perfectly.
After such peace, it’s eventually time to leave. Time for a brief look around ‘upstairs.’ So, we emerge from our dream of what might have been, up the lovely new stairs, into the cathedral that really did get built in the 1960s.
A circular space, a vision of a more egalitarian time.
And it’s time for lunch. The Cathedral does have an ok kind of café that we’ve been to once or twice. But it’s not good enough for your birthday.