LIVERPOOL is a city set upon two hills. It looks down on a leaden estuary. Its skyline, like that of Istanbul, is pricked by towers, these two great thick commanding affirmations of God.
It has great civic temples at its centre. Despite the planners having done their worst, there are still streets of elegance, though too many of the 18th century houses have their windows blinded with hardboard. It is the same as putting pennies on the eyelids of a dead man.
But the place has suffered from the changing pattern of trade and industry. It is stricken with unemployment. It is a place that seems to run down the streets on the edge of violence. It seemed to be apart, even from the rest of Lancashire. It has pubs like the palaces of vulgar princes. Its people look small faced and knowing and even when they have painted "no future" on the back of their leather jackets, still look fiercely joyful — and intimidating.
It is a great city and a people who suddenly astonish with their gentle courtesy.
It is a place that seemed this week encompassed by a great sea wind, especially around the Metropolitan Cathedral.
This was the city that played host; after all it is the most Catholic City in the Kingdom. And it somehow billeted more than 2,000 strangers. (I have to report that some priests of ancient cunning billeted themselves in the Adelphi Hotel which was built for the Cunard trade and the Grand National).
The mass of the delegates were the guests of Christians and their hosts included the Anglican bishop. Not much fun going as a stranger into a strange house with strange ways. But then this too was part of the operation. Part of the charity of the operation and I suspect on occasions part of the penance. But it was an amazing generosity from the Liverpool Catholics. Having a delegate to stay was like a peacock in your
The delegates, scattered to the far borders of this city and beyond, lived almost in retreat. Those in charge had decided to free them from the beady eyes of the Press, which at least saved some poor journalists some monumental taxi bills.
We were briefed each evening by the leaders of the various groups. I knew none of them. They were clear and literate but, another time, must fight against a tendency to be bossy and snubbing when they got the sort of question they would not have ordered for themselves.
Myself, on the fringe, was well helped by a press centre that was in the curial offices. The dreadful red brick buildings were once part of a great and fearsome workhouse that crowned this Mount Pleasant. Westminster Cathedral is on the site of a debtor's prison. The Anglican Cathedral in Zanzibar is on the site of the old slave market.
I was recommended to an hotel by a Liverpool undergraduate, close to the Cathedral, he said. He did not say that it was the sort of place where they chain the television to the wall in the bedrooms and the guests, who appeared to be affluent merchant seamen, take their shoes off in the bar and every dish is accompanied by a pile of chips of an almost Belgian splendour.
But it was a curiously gentle place, even in its cups. Though I did hear a chambermaid calling out "number 36 has thrown up again." A very propert anteroom to the practical Church hard at work.
Singing in the choir
Ti I E Congress was opened by a specially composed service of Intercession and Reconciliation. It was proceeded by a ritual bomb search which is not a usual part of the Roman liturgy, even in that revised since Vatican II.
Entrance was for delegates and guests only. The guests included Cllr. Doreen Jones, the Lord Mayor. The chief magistrate of Liverpool carries a long white wand and rides in a charming little state coach. But if she was there. she was lost among the more than 2,000 delegates who came in armadas of buses from the four quarters of the city, some of them rather late.
This was not a Mass. Archbishop Derek Warlock sat on a high podium as did Charlemagne in the round Aachen cathedral.
Now I am not going to expatiate about Liverpool Cathedral. It is a positive source of contention as to whether it be good or bad architecture. I like it and as the pale sun went down the massive chunks of stained glass burned with a blue and red fire that I found as rich as, arid less vulgar. than the Crown jewels. So, Archbishop Worlock sat in the President's place. Each priest that says Mass here uses it. The people were packed into a complete circle with one wedge of it given to the choir. Somehow Liverpool — and rightly — has got itself a superb Catholic choir. It sings in the pure and slightly mannered English way. Tfue, it seems to have a bit of an attack of the moderns, and the specially made Congress hymn to which the Pope referred is virtually unsingable. But when they came to Newman's Praise to the Holiest in the Height, they fairly let rip.
They had a Congress candle and a new and rich pascal candle holder for it. This was brought to the Archbishop with the care that scholars carry Dead Sea scrolls.
In Liverpool, when in high fashion, ladies still seem to wear those impossibly high and slender heels, the sort that dig holes in Persian carpets, dent parquet floors and even crack marble. The young lady wore such a pair and it looked nice but very unsafe.
A gentlemanly monsignor gave her an arm up and down the steps to the Archbishop. She made it without a wobble.
Then she had to carry the lighted candle right round the altar, infinitely slowly, for there is none of the Italian skurry here, until she could hand it over at the foot of the candle holder to be set in place. We breathed again.
And then, with surprising swiftness, every delegate and choirboy took a lighted candle. It looked from the gallery like a doughnut on fire. It was
enchanting and moving. And it was simply pleasure to look down on such .a thing. Be you never so puritanical and liturgically with it, people need a fillip like this from time to time. If you wanted to be pretentious, you could call this style Cluniac.
But what was most English and most lovely was the singing 'of 'a motet The Lamentation of a Sinner. It was by that great English lutanist who worked many years in the Danish court and died in the 17th century, John Dowland.
This, at the temporary heart of English and Welsh Catholicism, spoke out with pathetic purity.
There was a huge party in the Students Union opposite. Beautifully organised. Bars open. Bishops wild for beer. Duke of Norfolk calling Charterhouse Chesterfield — on purpose. Little glasses of wine. Nothing too much. The delegates went cheerful to this Congress.
Drumming up Belfast
AT every great Congress or Festival or Fair, there are fringe activities that are symptoms of contageous life. In Liverpool there were several.
The oddest and the most old fashioned was laid on by the Orangemen who would have Liverpool be a mirror image of Belfast.
They realised, a bit late perhaps, that the Catholics were making the news and acting confidently and treating the city as if they too were full citizens.
It was all a bit surprising. They laid on a special demonstration for Sunday afternoon, summoning their faithful and their bands of music even over the local radio.
And just as a mass in the Caribbean style was starting in the Cathedral, they came marching back from some rally. Cur! what a shower.
There seemed to be more bands than marchers. It is weird that the Union Flag, except in its proper place at the top of some well established flagpole or from out of a window when the Queen goes by, is not flaunted in this country — except on carrier bags. If it is carried in procession it means either the National Front or the Orangemen. This is a proper reticence on our part and — as nanny used to say — the Height of Vulgarity on their's.
The marchers were respectable. Middle aged ladies with hair-dos and handbags. Men in bowler hats which even officers in the Brigade of Guards have given up. Rather vague looking young men, most of them vested in the orange stole of the Order.
But it was the drums!
The Orangemen from the six counties make a great thing of this. They have a special way of beating the big drum in an energetic four beats to where the real military bandsman would give on respectful thump. But they don't thump, they bang with frenzy. The result is emotionally exciting. There was one gap in the procession and then coming up the hill towards the Cathedral, from side to side of the road. there was a rank of side drummers. cripsly and loudly rattling out the heat of an almost inaudible tune played on concertinas.
It looked for a moment like the front of a wave of a flood sweeping into the city. It was like something nasty in Germany in 1938. But it was just another band with about 20 people walking behind it.
I only saw one policeman and he wandered off before it was over. There were few spectators, except children drawn by the drums. It was discourteous, but it was also curiously sad and defeated.
The real fringe
OF course it is perverse to call this insolence a fringe activity. Indeed as it passed, noisy but almost unnoticed, the base of the Cathedral's slopes, a special Mass "in the Caribbean idiom" was starting. That meant a steel band from London and a fine raucous choir of black school children and the most ebulient 'kisses of peace I have ever seen. That took the sour orange taste out of my mouth.
But there were all manner of things for delegates who had already tired the sun with talking and sent him down the sky to do.
There were Masses in various rites, including a full fig Roman one cum permisso. There was a festival of folk hymns which I avoided. There was a reading of St John's Gospel in the Anglican cathedral. There was bell ringing and some sort of rave-up for the young in the Catholic chaplaincy which is a well designed part of the Cathedral campus. There was a disco on a Mersey ferryboat, but on the whole it was serious.
Then in the Cathedral crypt there was an exhibition of Catholic organisations and a few objets.
This crypt is one of the wonders of the North and it is not under the Cathedral. It is the crypt for the vast, mad, marvellous, uninhibited, triumphant cathedral that Sir Edwin Lutyens designed to assuage the ancient bruises of the Liverpool Irish.
It was never finished. The costs took off. Today they would be out of financial sight to anybody except a government intent on making war. Its dome was to be bigger than the dome of St Peter's.
So they built the crypt and then stopped and paved it all over the roof and now it broods, sunk in the living rock of this hill. It is used as a place for special services, for the burial of Archbishops and as a dosshouse for down and outs who gently haunt its precincts for hand-outs from the faithful. And quite right too. • ' They were the new sort of exhibition stalls with blown-up photographs, hand outs, and devoted assistants who apparently ran on tea.
Can't list them. But there was a great deaf about our social responsibility. (eg CAFOD and Pastoral Care for the Deaf), the ecclesiastical arts, (the Organ Advisory group and various firms displaying splendid vestments).
There was a corner given to our past. From the Bar Convent in York, there was a chasuble that looked as if it had been made with delicacy and love a very long time ago.