The First Commission
The first commission to build a cathedral was given in 1853 to Edward Pugin (1833-1875), son of Augustus Pugin, the man who had helped design the Houses of Parliament in London in the 1830s. Initially, it was decided the cathedral should be built in the grounds of a seminary at one of the older mansions in Liverpool, San Domingo House, which stood on a ridge in the Everton district.
Within three years the first part of Pugin’s design, The Lady Chapel, had been built. However, as Liverpool’s Catholic population increased, the diocese’s priorities changed – schools and orphanages became more important than the cathedral. So, The Lady Chapel stood in splendid isolation and served as the parish church of Our Lady Immaculate until it was demolished in the 1980s.
It wasn’t until the late 1920s that a combination of a charismatic Archbishop, Doctor Richard Downey, a renewed enthusiasm for a centre of worship due to the centenary of Catholic emancipation, and the availability of a suitable site at the top of Brownlow Hill, convinced people that the dream of a Catholic cathedral should be revived.
Sir Edwin Lutyens
Famous for his construction of The Cenotaph in Whitehall, London and the government buildings in New Delhi, India, Lutyens was the man entrusted with the task. On the 5th of June 1933, the foundation stone of the cathedral was laid. The building was to be dedicated to Christ the King, at the suggestion of Pope Pius XI.
The piece de resistance of Lutyens’ design was a dome 168 feet in diameter with a height of 300 feet. The High Altar was to be twelve feet above the nave and would be one of 53 altars in total. Lutyens also wanted a narthex at the western end of his cathedral that would be open to the poor 24 hours a day. However, the war intervened and building of The Crypt ceased. Then in 1944 Lutyens died.
After the war The Crypt was completed, but escalating building costs meant that Lutyens’ grand design had to be scaled back. The ideas of Adrian Gilbert Scott, brother of the architect of the Anglican Cathedral, for changing Lutyens’ design met with heavy criticism and the project was held in abeyance. And then Doctor John Heenan succeeded as Sixth Archbishop of Liverpool.
Dr Heenan decided that a competition should take place. So, in 1960, architects were invited to submit designs for a Catholic Cathedral for Liverpool which would be sympathetic to the existing crypt, cost no more than a million pounds, and be built within five years.
The winning design from the hundreds from all over the world was that of Sir Frederick Gibberd. Building began in October 1962 and on the 14th May 1967, the Cathedral was consecrated. In a neat closing of the circle, the Papal Legate at the consecration was Cardinal Heenan. Liverpool’s wait for a catholic Cathedral was over.