Sunday, December 03, 2006

Liverpool Anglican Cathedral

Frequent readers of this website will know well one of my many obsessions is the unbuilt cathedral proposed by one of the last great classicists before the Modernist deluge, Edwin Lutyens, for the Catholic archdiocese of Liverpool. What you may not know is that Liverpool also boasted another mammoth church under construction at the same time, one that was not finished until 1978. Sir Giles Gilbert Scott's Liverpool Anglican Cathedral is a great hulking monster of a building--and I mean that in the best way, of course. Scott, curiously enough, was a Catholic, while Lutyens was a sort-of-Anglican married to a rather flaky Theosophist. Along with Cram and Goodhue's work, and Lutyens for that matter, the cathedral marks an important signpost on a road not travelled by twentieth century architecture, where something really and quite dumbfoundingly new could have sprung organically from the forms of the past. It is by no stretch of the imagination a merely revivalist structure.

Some aspects--such as its rugged, even daunting chunkiness, rather suitable for a working-class town like Liverpool--date it incontestibly as a twentieth-century work; and yet, in quality of ornament it is the equal of anything produced in the Middle Ages. I'd like to post at greater length and leisure sometime in the next few weeks on the church's influence in later designs--just about any Gothic church built in the U.S. or America since was impacted by it in some way--and also about some of the odder aspects of its internal arrangement and their relationship to certain liberal and conservative transatlantic trends in the Episcopalianism of the time--and what Catholics can learn from them, both for good and for ill. Perhaps next week. Until that time, a few photos.

A view from the exterior. One of the more unusual aspects of the church is its massively oversized crossing and mammoth tower, featuring not one but two transepts. Scott's proposal originally included two facade towers and a rather strange side-elevation.

Looking towards the liturgical west end of the church, from the quire. The strange "nave bridge" before the crossing is clearly visible. It was originally intended to serve as a base for part of the church's gigantic organ. It appears that the architect intended, after abandoning the organ-placement scheme, for the bridge to serve as an a-liturgical screen adding interest to the unfolding experience of the altar. It is thus to some degree an attenuated and perhaps unduly novel descendent of the rood screen, but of some interest as a curiosity.

A side-altar.

Another view of the bridge, and its liturgically rather arbitrary placement.

A dramatic view of the westwerk.

The Lady Chapel.

A view of the nave from on high.

Another view of the Lady Chapel, its phenominal quasi-Teutonic altarpiece shrouded with scaffolding, sadly. A better view can be found here.

Towards the high altar. The combination of broadness and height to the nave makes it seem particularly daunting and almost disturbing, rather than the comparative intimacy one finds in the narrower naves of medieval cathedrals.

Most of these I found via Flickr, and kudos to the original photographers. A particularly good set can be found here. If anyone has any problems with me posting these, I will remove them.

Incidentally, while the present-day Liverpool Catholic Cathedral is pretty weird looking (it's been compared to a wig-wam), it does lend its basement to hosting the Liverpool Beer Festival ever February. Take from that what you will.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: