LUTYENS’ SCHEME FOR the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, Liverpool is oft hailed as the greatest building to never have been built. Strictly speaking, this is not accurate, as the building was structurally finished, although not completely decorated, up to the crypt level. Nonetheless, had it been finished, the cathedral almost certainly would have been considered Sir Edwin Lutyens’ greatest work; though his hand (with Herbert Baker) in building the Indian capital of New Delhi, including the monumental Viceregal Palace, would certainly vie for the title.
The Great Model of Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral by Sir Edwin Lutyens as presented at the Royal Academy in London.
The cathedral, seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Liverpool, would have been a massive 530 ft long, larger than any other cathedral in England. The ceiling of the nave would reach 138 ft from the floor, while a great dome, 168 ft in diameter and 300 ft high would crown the church. Aside from the high altar, which would be twelve feet above the floor of the nave, fifty-three side altars would be located down the nave, along the aisles, and in the transepts and apse. The cathedral’s dome would have been larger than St. Peter’s. The entrance arch on the west portal would have been able to contain the tower of Liverpool University. At 520 ft, the cathedral’s height would overpower the nearby Anglican cathedral, itself 330 ft tall. Somewhat ironically, the design of Liverpool’s Catholic cathedral was by Lutyens, an Anglican, while the modern gothic of the city’s contemporary Anglican cathedral, was designed by Gilbert Scott, a Catholic.
A visualization (not-to-scale) of Lutyens’s Catholic cathedral on the right foreground, with Gilbert Scott’s Anglican cathedral in the left background.
The construction of the cathedral was paid for mostly by the contributions of the multitude of working-class Catholics of the burgeoning industrial port. The foundation stones were lain on Whit Monday, June 5, 1933, amidst the great worldwide depression. Contrary to popular belief, work did not cease for want of money; the contributions of the faithful, both rich and poor, continued to flow towards the building of the great cathedral which, on the suggestion of Pope Pius IX, was to be dedicated to Christ the King. Work continued, even after the start of the Second World War, until 1941 when the growing restrictions of wartime finally meant that construction had to cease.
The crypt, seen here, is the only part of the cathedral completed to Lutyens’s design.
While 1945 brought victory over Germany, it also heralded the advent of socialism in Britain, as wartime restrictions continued into the peace, and the power of the state over society increased. With a sullen economy and what seemed like perpetual austerity, the cost of beginning again work towards Lutyens’s grandiose design was evaluated to cost £27,000,000. Upon ascending to the archiepiscopal throne of Liverpool in 1953, Dr. William Godfrey decided that in order for the cathedral to be completed, it would have to be scaled down. Archbishop Godrey chose Adrian Gilbert Scott, of the Catholic family of architects, to reduce Lutyens’ proportions to a more suitable plan. Nonetheless, work never restarted, though in 1960 it was decided to hold an architectural competition to choose a new design for the cathedral atop Lutyens’ crypt. The ugly, concrete modernist design of an upturned funnel by Sir Frederick Gibberd was the winner. Commemorating the many Irish laborers among the swarms of Liverpool Catholics, it was genially nicknamed “Paddy’s Wigwam”.
While the plan was discarded, the Great Model of the Lutyens design, seen in the previous photograph on exhibition at the Royal Academy, survived, though in an increasingly poor condition. A recent government grant went towards restoring the Great Model to its former glory, and it will be shown at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool as the centerpiece of an exhibit entitled ‘The Cathedral That Never Was: Lutyens’ Design for Liverpool’ from January 27 to April 22 of 2007. Above, and onwards, are a number of photographs of the restored model.
A restorer finishes a detail on the high altar.
A cross-section of the nave.
A view of a side aisle.
Details on the exterior of the model.
The vaulted ceiling of the nave.
The high altar, with chancel behind.
Via the Shrine of the Holy Whapping