The stage by ROBERT LUTYENS Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, Liverpool by Fr. Frederick Gibberd (Architectural Press 45s.) I NEVER thought I should ever come to feel a twinge of nostalgia in looking at the distant prospect of the pastiche gothic tower of Scott's cathedral which appears in many of the exterior photographs in this elegantly produced book.
Any critical appraisal of the new Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King at Liverpool is at this stage more or less irrelevant. Sir Frederick Gibherd is unquestionably a gifted and intelligent designer. The terms imposed on the competitors were fairly explicit; and the assessors decided that Gibberd's design most nearly fulfilled the conditions.
I have no idea whether the Catholic hierarchy of Liverpool are happy with what they have got. What seems certain is that they have got what they asked for whether they knew it initially or not.
What can be said without much fear of contradiction is that the new cathedral is essentially a secular building; and one almost inevitable consequence of this is that the religious embellishments appear unduly sentimental—and sentimental is the one thing that the old cathedrals, medieval or renaissance, never were. The majesty and mystery of the High altar have been replaced by a "low" altar. Looking at the colour photograph of the Mass of Consecration, a comparison with the flood-lit boxing ring at Albert Hall is inescapable. Heenan stresses the strict instruction to competitors to retain the Lutyens crypt. Now this crypt, to which Gibberd naturally refers in his exposition of his solution of the problems that confronted him, is by any reckoning a great work of architecture; and there is no reason to suppose that the Cathedral itself would have fallen short of the masterpiece that it is on paper. Archbishop Downey — regarding the building of a great church as in itself an act of praise — was bothered neither by the cost nor by the time it would take to finish.
Judging by the astonishing "modernity" of the crypt, one cannot help doubting whether the finished design, had it proceeded according to the original intentions, would have proved a greater anachronism than the up-to-date unassimilated modernism of so much contemporary building. This has resulted in the failure of ecclesiastical buildings to reconcile contemporary idioms with the traditional and essential pageantry of Catholic worship.