It might seem a little greedy to have not one, but two cathedrals that are each architectural masterpieces in the same city, but Liverpool takes it further by siting them on the same street with just half a mile between them. Technically the Anglican building’s address is St James’ Mount, but head south on Hope Street from the Metropolitan Cathedral and you’ll find it.
You could be forgiven for thinking that the street must therefore owe its name to some religious aspiration, but in fact it predates the two buildings and derives from a merchant called William Hope. In fact as the 19th century drew to a close Liverpool had no cathedral at all. An act of parliament provided authorisation for one in 1885, but the plans were abandoned when the proposed site was found to be unsuitable.
As the 20th century began the idea was revived and a competition held for the design of what was to become the Cathedral Church of Christ in Liverpool; the Anglican cathedral. The competition winner was Giles Gilbert Scott, a controversial choice since he was 22, had no prior experience and was a Roman Catholic. (In fairness he was part of a design dynasty).
The Catholic cathedral had it’s own false starts; a Pugin design didn’t progress very far and was demolished in 1980. In 1930 Edwin Lutyens submitted his huge design, which would have been second in size only to St Peters in Rome (though with a larger dome). World War II intervened and costs soared to until in 1958 with only the crypt complete, work was abandoned. In a remarkable turnaround a design competition for this structure was held in 1959 and Frederick Gibberd’s cathedral was consecrated in 1967. This is the unique building variously known as “Paddy’s Wigwam”, “The Mersey Funnel” and more accurately the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King.
It’s modern, spacious and full of contemporary art. A complete contrast to the Anglican building which had been growing steadily down the road but was still incomplete. Queen Elizabeth dedicated Scott’s Gothic Revival over a decade later in 1978.
If I enjoyed the freshness of the Catholic building I was simply astonished by the Anglican. It’s the longest cathedral in the world, possibly the largest Anglican cathedral (in competition with St John’s, New York), and one of the tallest too (if you exclude spires). You might but that last fact down to the enormous tower, but to do so would be to overlook the height of the nave alone. It soars. It’s breathtaking.
It’s a quarter century since I was last in St Peters (I need to rectify that) so the impact of that church has long subsided. For now I’ll just remain in awe of Liverpool’s Anglican option. It’s neighbour might have had greater impact in a city where it stood alone, or had Pugin or Lutyens completed their efforts, but can it compete in the city of two cathedrals. It doesn’t have a hope. Despite the street name.