Page 3, 6th August 1976

6th August 1976
Page 3
Page 3, 6th August 1976 — Clifton cathedral: 'Those who came to scoff remain to pray'

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Locations: Coventry, Liverpool, London


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Clifton cathedral: 'Those who came to scoff remain to pray'

IN DLCIfV1BER, 1968. Bishop Rudclerham poked his head up through the floor of his new Clifton Cathedral, while a group of architects looked on anxiously.

The Bishop was actually inside a large. balsa wood model of the edifice, and he was viewing it for the first time. No one could he sure of his reaction. He was avowedly traditional-minded, with no great enthusiasm for new concepts in architecture.

As he emerged, to eygfyone's surprise he smiled approvingly. He went on to state publicly: "It has a fine. spacious feeling to it. And I think it will he a splendid setting for the liturgy.

"It brings the people as close as possible to the altar without crowding them, and there i5 plenty of room for our ceremonies."

Those words, uttered five years before Bishop Rudderham was able to step into his completed Cathedral, ring as true today as they did then.

One of the Most imaginative examples of recent church architecture. the now threeyear-old Cathedral of St Peter and Paul, Clifton, has become virtually universally acceptable, both among young and old -a great tribute to the dedication of both the architects and the Clifton clergy and lay advisers who formed the steering committee.

How did it all come about? Bishop Rudderham's first thoughts were for "something between Coventry and Liverpool". But those actually involved with the designing chose not to work like that.

The first question asked by the Percy Thomas architectural partnership was: "Would you tell us, please, what is a cathedral?" And they requested. and received, a reply in fewer than 100 words.

This perhaps set the trend for what followed. The planning stage took three years, and the Cathedral's eventual design undoubtedly benefited from this.

The project's Vicar-General, Mgr Thomas Hughes, his priests and lay advisers, set about learning architecture, while the architects set about learning liturgy.

And today they count themselves fortunate to have been working at the very time Vatican 11 was irt progress. in the 'sense that the Cathedral has been designed to fulfil the latest liturgical concepts to the utmost.

As Mgr Hughes explains, it has been built "around the people. Instead of designing a building we talked about people. what they did, what they carne to This is undoubtedly one of the factors of its success.

It would be wrong to suggest that the project was all straightforward. Mgr Hughes recalls the days when the Cathedral was actually in construction, and some of his older parishioners looked on the rising edifice with horror. Even today not everyone is totally happy with some of the external aspects.

But the real test of the Cathedral's design has been its interior. To the newcomer as well as to the regular wor shipper it has an atmosphere rare among most modern ecclesiastical buildings.

This cannot he attributed to any adornment, for the Cathedral is almost devoid of traditional decoration, the most striking feature facing the worshipper being a vast, blank concrete wall, relieved only by a pattern on the wooden' shuttering with which it was moulded.

Somehow this does not need adornment. even by a simple crucifix, and Mgr Hughes hopes no-one will be tempted to change this.

The real source of the Cathedral's atmosphere lies in its light characteristics, which work in a mysterious way. From the point of view of the worshipper light pours down onto the blank wall and celebrants from an unseen source -actually windows set high in the pyramidical roof structure.

The effect of this sometimes golden light can be quite magical, and it is no accident. The same balsa model studied by Bishop Rudderharn was taken to London by the architects for testing in a special laboratory which actually reproduces the light characteristics of any day of the year. God and inspired architects make surprisingly good partners! Use of simple resources has also reaped its financial rewards. Because so much of t h e construction utilises humble concrete Clifton can count itself one of the cheapest of recent Cathedrals to have been built. particularly when one considers its £600,000 cost against Coventry's £1,500,000 (in the 1950's), and Liverpool's £4,000,000 (in the 1960's).

Even so it has not been without recent financial problems due, in fact, almost entirely to the fall in the property market which has meant that the old Pro-Cathedral site, up for sale for the past eight months, has still not found a buyer.

This has required Bishop Alexander recently to launch an appeal for funds from the parishioners in order to meet the short-term cash crisis.

Despite these problems, today Mgr Hughes looks back with a justifiable pride on the ready acceptance the Cathedral has found in the past three years . He is particularly delighted with the design of the Cathedral narthex which is of such a width that congregation and priests tend to talk there informally before leaving the church.

In a cathedral it is difficult to create the feeling of a community. Mgr Hughes stresses, but at Clifton this is no problem, the only drawback being that because of the community chatter. quiet prayer in the Blessed Sacrament chapel can he difficult. "But You can't have it both ways."

GOod acoustics and an excellent choral setting have

inspired the development of a very good choir under a talented young musical director, Christopher Walker. who has composed his own scores for sung sections of the Mass.

Similarly on a musical theme the Cathedral is being regularly used for concerts, several of which were held during a recent festival to celebrate the third anniversary of the inauguration. Sensitive to a recent critic who accused him of acting like a Temple money-changer. Mgr Hughes is quick to point out that all these are in. aid of charity.

As one who perhaps more than any other nursed the Cathedral project through from its most infant stages. Mgr Hughes finds his greatest reward in the Cathedral's total acceptability as a' place where worship can he carried out in such a manner that everyone can participate in what is going on.

The Cathedral is now attracting ever-growing streams of visitors, many of them non-Catholics. These become caught in the atmosphere and make inquiries about the Faith. and there is a very significant proportion of young people among the congregations.

As he neatly sums it up: "Those who came to scoff have remained to pray".

Ian Wilson

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