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Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral

Liverpool, Merseyside

Liverpool Cathedral

Sector: Cultural, Interiors
Project value: 1,500,000
Project stage: Complete

The original Catholic cathedral intended for the site on Hope Street in Liverpool was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and planned as the largest church in the world after St Peter’s in Rome. Construction was begun in 1928 but halted by the outbreak of World War II, by which time only the crypt had been built. After the war the cost of completing the design was deemed prohibitive and it was decided to hold an open competition to find a viable solution.  Frederick Gibberd produced the winning design and the commission to construct the landmark building.

The plan form responds to the dictates of the Second Vatican Council which challenged the traditional Latin Cross design in favour of a building in which the congregation and celebrant of the mass could be closely associated.  The building had to hold two thousand people, all with clear sight lines of the high altar.

Gibberd’s design was highly innovative and the circular plan form put the altar at the centre of everything, with sixteen structural ribs carrying the huge circular lantern of some two thousand tons which lights the body of the cathedral.  Around the perimeter, chapels of various designs stand in the interstices of the ribs, separated by glazed strips to emphasise their independence from the main space.

Externally the building formed a crown rising above the city streets and providing a counterpoint to the large central tower of Giles Gilbert Scott’s Anglican cathedral, with the contrast further emphasised by the use of Portland stone to contrast with Scott’s red sandstone. Internally a large baldacchino is suspended over the altar, its design reflecting the structure of the cathedral and the ‘crown of thorns’ of the lantern above.

The stained glass to the main lantern was designed by John Piper and Patrick Rentyens and depicts in abstract the Trinity using the three primary colours.  Various artworks were commissioned from leading artists and sculptors including Elisabeth Frink, Ceri Richards, Margaret Trehearne and Sean Rice. The gates of the freestanding baptistery adjoining the building, and the floor pattern were by David Atkins, an artist who was a member of the Gibberd practice.