A golden year looms for our Cathedral

By Simon Hart

The 50th anniversary of Liverpool's Metropolitan Cathedral will be marked by a series of celebratory events – and the opportunity to share your memories.
"A golden milestone" is how Canon Anthony O'Brien, dean of the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, describes the special anniversary that lies ahead for Liverpool Archdiocese later this year.

It was on Pentecost Sunday 50 years ago – 14 May 1967, to be precise – that the Cathedral's consecration took place and the golden jubilee will be marked by a sequence of events at the 'mother church' of our Archdiocese.

A Solemn Mass of Thanksgiving, a floral tribute and a Golden Jubilee Dinner are all planned for the weekend of 2–4 June – when the Feast of Pentecost falls – and the celebrations will continue until the Feast of Christ the King on Sunday 26 November.

Canon O'Brien, the Cathedral dean, said: "This will be a very special year in the life of our Cathedral as we mark this golden milestone of our history in a building that means so much to so many people. 

"Although relatively young in Cathedral terms, we have so many wonderful memories to give thanks for and so many opportunities to look forward to. I hope as many people as possible will join us for many of the wonderful events that we have planned this year and help us make this a truly celebratory 50th anniversary."

The intervening decades have witnessed many significant events, not least the visit of Pope John Paul II on 30/31 May 1982, and the installations of three Archbishops – Archbishop Derek Worlock in 1976, Archbishop Patrick Kelly in 1996 and Archbishop Malcolm McMahon in 2014.

There was a visit from Queen Elizabeth II in 1977. In 2003 the new Visitor Centre and Cathedral steps were opened. In 2009 over 17,000 people came to visit the relics of St Thérèse of Lisieux at the Cathedral.

Celebration plans
The celebration weekend scheduled for Pentecost will include a Golden Jubilee Dinner, which will take place in the Lutyens Crypt on Saturday 3 June, with a limited number of tickets available to the general public, followed on Sunday 4th by a Mass of Thanksgiving at 11am. Open to all, this will be attended by the Crosby-born Cardinal Vincent Nichols and celebrated by Archbishop McMahon.

A free event titled 'Cathedral Life: A Floral Tribute' will run right across the weekend (from 2–5 June) and will see the Cathedral transformed by florists into an oasis of colour and calm.

The schedule of celebrations also includes a number of special concerts at the Cathedral. On Saturday 13 May there will be a performance of 'The Liverpool Mass' by French composer and electronic-music pioneer Pierre Henry. Henry was commissioned to compose the music for the Cathedral's inaugural Mass in 1967, but it was not completed and another work took its place. In a collaboration with the Bluecoat – the Liverpool arts hub – the piece, structured as a traditional Catholic Mass, will be staged in full at the Cathedral.
A second concert on Saturday 10 June will feature the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra playing the 'Gloria!', conducted by Sir James MacMillan, the Scottish Catholic composer. The orchestra will be joined by leading tenor soloist Ian Bostridge, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir and the Metropolitan Cathedral Choir.

The 50-year anniversary will also offer a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reflect and pay tribute to the achievements of the Cathedral and its community. Groups, organisations and individiduals are encouraged to contact the Cathedral should they wish to collaborate, with the organisers particularly interested to hear from people who have memories or photographs of the Cathedral from its first 50 years.

The full Jubilee events season will run from May to November. More events are being announced regularly and you can find up-to-date listings on the events pages of the Metropolitan Cathedral website.

Long wait for a Cathedral
Liverpool's Catholics have had a cathedral to call their own for five decades now – and to call it some other things too, such as the less reverential 'Mersey funnel' or 'Paddy’s wigwam'! – though one fascinating aspect of its history was the long gestation process from when the idea of a Roman Catholic cathedral for the city was first mooted.

It was after the 1850 restoration of the hierarchy, and influx of Catholics from Ireland following the 1847 potato famine, that Bishop Goss commissioned Edward Welby Pugin – son of Augustus Welby Pugin, the foremost architect of the Gothic revival – to build a cathedral in the grounds of San Domingo House, a seminary in Everton. In the end only the Lady Chapel was built, which would provide a church for the parish of Our Lady Immaculate until the 1980s.

After the dream of a cathedral was revived by Archishop Keating in the 1920s, his successor Archishop Downey commissioned Sir Edward Luytens to design a cathedral to contrast with the Gothic gem of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott which was rising at the other end of Hope Street.

Luytens' vision was for a romanesque super-structure, featuring a great dome. At its highest point it would reach 520 feet (150 metres). At the suggestion of Pope Pius XI it would be dedicated to Christ the King.

In 1933 the foundation stone was laid but though the crypt was completed after the end of the Second World War, the rising costs meant that Archbishop Godfrey commissioned Adrian Gilbert Scott, brother of Giles Gilbert, to scale down the original plans, albeit keeping the massive dome. It was Archbishop Heenan who subsequently decided to scrap the plans altogether.

Instead, architects were invited in 1960 to design a cathedral that would relate to the existing Crypt, be capable of construction within five years and cost no more than £1m for its shell. Additionally, it had to express the new spirit of the liturgy being reformulated by the Second Vatican Council.
Of 300 entries, Sir Frederick Gibberd's design was chosen, and building began in October 1962. It was on the Feast of Pentecost in 1967 that the completed Cathedral was consecrated. And the rest, as they say, is history.
We want to hear your memories!
Do you remember the Cathedral being built? Did you attend the opening ceremony or were you one of thousands who have attended special events throughout the Cathedral's history? Do you have other memories or photographs that you would like to share with us? To register your interest, please contact jubilee@metcathedral.org.uk and include in the subject line 'Cathedral memories'.

Oral Archive Project:
As part of our Jubilee celebrations, arts and heritage specialists Metro-Boulot-Dodo will soon be announcing an oral archiving project which will chart the history of the Cathedral. They are looking to recruit volunteers of all ages to become part of a research group, which will follow a series of lectures and workshops on the Cathedral's heritage and then go on to conduct interviews with the general public to create their own oral archives. If you have a passion for local history and heritage, or would like to learn new skills and meet new friends, this will be a fantastic opportunity. Contact esther@metro-boulot-dodo.com

What does the Cathedral mean to you today?
Do you have a personal story about how the Cathedral has made a difference in your life? Or would you like to a share a few words about what the Cathedral means to you? If so, please email jubilee@metcathedral.org.uk and include in the subject line 'My Cathedral'.