Sunday, 27 June 2010

Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral

Paddy's Wigwam.

People either seem to love it to bits, or to dislike it with an intensity that is unique among the feelings addressed towards a cathedral. The website for the Cathedral is here; and this page on the site gives an account of some of the features of the cathedral. One should perhaps remember that the cathedral is dedicated to Christ the King, and that the crown over the altar when you are inside the cathedral and the stained glass/crown rising from the centre of the building towards the sky represent the crown of thorns. In this context, the thought that it is the crown of thorns worn by Christ on the cross that dominates the skyline of the city is rather a good one. The only other place where I have seen a similar building with a similar dominance of its city is the shrine of Our Lady of the Tears in Syracuse, Sicily.

My memories of visiting when I was a lot younger than I am now are of CONCRETE. When I had opportunity to visit on Friday, I felt that the sense of concrete had been somewhat diminished. Banners inside the cathedral, some representing the dioceses within the metropolitan area of Liverpool archdiocese, another representing the visit of Pope John Paul II, do soften the sense of the concrete.

It is a building of its time in a more subtle way than just the use of concrete, concrete and more concrete. The stained glass that is extensively used in the windows between the concrete buttresses and in the "dome" is just patterned and does not display an image. The portrayal is purely in the colours, and these are dominated by a strong blue, red and yellow. How they play out in the cathedral depends on the time of day, whether or not the sun is shining and wherabouts you happen to be standing. The building is of its time in two senses. What does this apparently random arrangement of colours, which certainly has its own beauty, represent that is specifically Christian? And, as a matter of lighting design, it just doesn't work. Internally, the cathedral has a significant dependence on artificial lighting. Without changing the structure of the cathedral, I feel sure that a contemporary architect would design the windows to admit much more natural light into the cathedral and reduce its dependence on artificial lighting.

I did like the way in which the Lady Chapel appeared to open out and look across from the side of the Cathedral towards the main altar. You can get this sense when you stand near the main entrance and look back towards the main altar. This represented, for me at least, a very appropriate Marian/ecclesial sense with regard to the celebration of the Eucharist on the main altar; and it represents a corresponding Christological sense, too.

The slight problem is the statue of the Virgin and Child, which is large enough to communicate the sense of "looking out" over the main area of the cathedral, but in other respects can be described diplomatically as "un-remarkable". I barely glanced at it; it had no power to hold my attention or to draw devotion.

And it typified the sense of the "cold" in the cathedral design. Some people clearly like that sense of "cold" and it attracts them. As a style of liturgical art and therefore of spirituality, it might not appeal to all, but perhaps it needs to be recognised as a legitimate style of such art. A consequent reflection on the ecclesial "style" implied by this point had better wait until another post.

Visiting the cathedral as we did for a relatively small celebration is going to be rather different than visiting for a big occasion when the main cathedral is full. Such large occasions are when the cathedral must come into its own. Somehow, my fellow visitors didn't seem as fascinated by the thought of the remnants of a synchrocyclotron being buried somewhere under the front steps of the cathedral as I was ....

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