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"Short stories and travel reports from my life adventures around the globe".

Travel Report: Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral.

Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral Paddy's Wigwam

Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral.

May 2019. So this was one of CNN’s ugliest cathedrals in the world? This was the “hideous eyesore” that stands only as a personal insult to those who have to pray in it? This was the building that thousands of TripAdvisor moaners had ranted about to the point of near self-combustion? Hm, not sure if I was missing something, but as I arrived at Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral on a sunny May afternoon, my first reaction was “Wow, impressive!”

Paddy's Wigwam Liverpool.

Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral.

I particularly liked the two towering stained-glass columns that flank the stone staircase leading up to the cathedral entrance. Created by the renowned German artist Raphael Seitz, they literally seem to herald your arrival. Peer through them and they provide an abstract snapshot of the cathedral façade.

Visit Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral

Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral.

Construction of this opinion-splitting building began in 1962 under the supervision of Frederick Gibberd, an English architect who went on to design The Central Mosque in London. Gibberd got the nod after winning a public, worldwide design competition.

Paddy's Wigwam Liverpool cathedral

Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral.

While I think the backlash against the cathedral was over the top, I certainly understand why people don’t like the design. With its conical shape, Portland stone facade, aluminium roof and boomerang trusses, it’s a highly unusual structure.

Moreover, the addition of flying buttresses give the cathedral its signature, tent-like appearance. In fact, many locals refer to the place as Paddy’s Wigwam. This also references the fact that many of its worshippers are of Irish descent. Indeed thousands of Irish people flooded into the city between 1845 and 1852 during The Great Irish Famine.

Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral.

Visit Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral Paddy's Wigwam.

Paddy’s Wigwam.

Unfortunately, Gibberd’s relationship with cathedral authorities was not a happy one. Following its grand unveiling in May 1967, a number of architectural flaws were discovered. Hence the architect soon found himself sued to the tune of around £1.3 million. At the heart of his clients’ discontent was a leaking roof and defective mosaic tiles.

The history of Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral

Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral.

Moving through the main doors into this entrance hall, I spent some time diving deeper into the cathedral’s history. The narrative goes as far back as the 1860s when the church originally commissioned Sir Edward Lutyens to build a cathedral here. However, his grand design and construction plans never came to fruition. Too costly, said the church.

Inside Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral

Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral.

Entering the interior was another wow moment for me. Not your typical church I’d say and therefore not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Nevertheless, I had never seen anything like it and very much appreciated its otherworldly feel.

Bathed in an almost vampiric blue light, I made my way down the smooth, grey marble floor towards a pew in the back row. From there I sat taking in the main altar, made from white marble that Gibberd had shipped from Macedonia. You know, because he could.

Paddy’s Wigwam.

Wood carvings in St. Joseph's Chapel Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral

St. Joseph’s Chapel, Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral.

Whatever one thinks of the cathedral’s strange design, there’s no doubting its stunning collection of religious art, peppered around the interior. Many of these pieces stand in the amazing, blue-glass side chapels that surround the nave.

St. Joseph's Chapel Paddy's Wigwam

Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral.

Take St. Joseph’s Chapel, for example, which features a number of painted wood relief carvings by the artist Stephen Foster. The chapel also houses the tomb of Archbishop Derek Worlock, who served the city between 1976 and 1996.

St. Anne's Chapel Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral

St. Anne’s Chapel, Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral.

Another highlight is the juxtaposition of statue and tapestry in The Chapel of St. Anne. The hand woven piece is by a local artist, Jill Hutchinson, who made it from yarns and recycled materials, including plastic. It’s a depiction of the sand dunes at Formby, north of Liverpool, where she lives. The trees actually protrude from the weaving, creating a 3D effect!

Sculpture of Abraham Liverpool.

Paddy’s Wigwam.

Elsewhere, this fearsome sculpture of Abraham caught my eye. Made by the artist Sean Rice, it depicts Abraham with a ram caught in a thicket. My biblical history isn’t up to much, thus I had to Google who Abraham was. Did he play for Chelsea? It turned out he did not.

Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral.

Painting of Abraham by Guercino Pinacoteca di Brera

Abraham by Guercino Pinacoteca di Brera (1657).

Rather, many consider Abraham to be the common ancestor of the Jewish and Arab races. Trumpeted as a figure of obedience, God put Abraham to the ultimate test of faith by commanding him to kill his beloved son Isaac.

As the story goes, Abraham was preparing to commit murder when an angel appeared at the eleventh hour to excuse him from the grisly deed. At this joyous moment, Abraham noticed the sudden arrival of a ram stuck in a nearby thicket. So the poor old lamb got sacrificed instead, not exactly a happy ending.

Hillsborough Disaster Memorial Book Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral

Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral.

Completing my loop of the interior, I was touched to see a memorial book in tribute to the fans of Liverpool Football Club who died during The Hillsborough Disaster in April 1989.

The book lists the names of all ninety six fans who lost their lives in the crush during the early moments of Liverpool’s F.A. Cup semi final against Nottingham Forest. The tragedy became a watershed moment in British culture, exposing inadequate stadium safety, police corruption and the immoral practices of certain newspapers that covered the story.

Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral.

Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral Paddy's Wigwam Liverpool.

Paddy’s Wigwam.

Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral opens seven days a week between 07:30-17:30. While general entrance is free, a £3 fee is required to enter the crypt. Donations are accepted, and gratefully so. Because, according to one online article, Paddy’s Wigwam costs over £4000 a day to maintain. Now THAT’S ugly.

For more on this opinion-splitting Cathedral, head to their official website.

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24 Comments

  • travelling_han

    So interesting! Definitely adding it to the list for my visit – thanks for sharing.

    May 18, 2021 - 9:19 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Yay! Thanks Hannah. Plenty more Liverpool spots coming over the next few weeks.

      May 18, 2021 - 9:22 am Reply
  • wetanddustyroads

    Hmm, I’m in two minds about this cathedral … not too bad from the outside (though nothing like the cathedrals I’m used to), but the inside – I don’t think that’s a place where I will get a peaceful feeling (and when you’ve mentioned ‘vampiric blue light’, I stopped right in my virtual steps 👀).
    Nevertheless, it’s always good to see everything … isn’t it?

    May 18, 2021 - 9:33 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha ha appreciate your honesty. I found it very… interesting… but I seem to be in the minority when it comes to my thoughts on the visuals. Thanks for reading and yes, I find it’s good to see everything. Or as close as one can get.

      May 18, 2021 - 9:35 am Reply
  • thehungrytravellers.blog

    It’s not often Chelsea and biblical history are mentioned in the same sentence, is it! I like the fact that your appreciation of the cathedral wasn’t negatively swayed by its reputation. When I was about 10, my Dad took a rare day off work and the two of us went to Liverpool and I remember sitting in that very cathedral looking at its unusual shapes. Given that I was born in 1957, it must have been very recently opened.

    May 18, 2021 - 9:40 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Oh that’s amazing! Do you remember any details perchance?

      May 18, 2021 - 9:41 am Reply
      • thehungrytravellers.blog

        Of the cathedral? Only the very unusual shape. Of the day? Yes, bits. The Liver Building with its iconic bird, a ferry ride across the Mersey…and having a bite to eat in the railway station cafe at Lime Street station!

        May 18, 2021 - 9:45 am
      • Leighton

        Excellent. Not sure if you read my Ferry Cross the Mersey piece. That was a special one for me too as a fan of Gerry and The Pacemakers.

        May 18, 2021 - 9:52 am
  • kagould17

    Some designs are a little out there, but that is why we trail and hire architects. The cathedral actually looks like a rocket ship poised for takeoff, and perhaps that was the heavenly inspiration. Thanks for sharing. Allan

    May 18, 2021 - 3:07 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      I think the space rocket description is apt. And I guess many people would be quite happy if it blasted off! Thanks for reading Allan.

      May 18, 2021 - 4:17 pm Reply
  • Monkey's Tale

    The interior of the cathedral reminded me of the salt mine cathedral in Colombia with the blue lights. It’s definitely a unique building, and not very cathedral like, but not like a wigwam. They built a new pedestrian bridge here in Calgary. It was supposed to be cutting edge design, but the locals hated it and wanted it removed. Turns out it’s now a must see for visitors, so who knows.

    May 18, 2021 - 5:43 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha, there’s no telling how these things might turn out. Usually people calm down and the storm passes. Then, new generations see it with fresh eyes. Thanks for reading!

      May 18, 2021 - 5:56 pm Reply
  • grandmisadventures

    I can’t believe there was so much loathing for such a striking and interesting cathedral! It’s incredible! I just can’t get enough of your pictures of it because it is so wonderfully different than any other cathedral. Definitely putting this at the top of my Liverpool must see list.

    May 18, 2021 - 6:15 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Wow, that’s definitely the most positive reaction I’ve heard so far. Thanks again!

      May 18, 2021 - 6:31 pm Reply
  • Little Miss Traveller

    Great to be able to take a look inside the Cathedral through your post as strangely this was closed on our recent visit despite the Anglican Cathedral being open. I have to say that the interior definitely appeals to me but not the building itself! Lovely sunny evening so popping out for a riverside walk now as it’s been a wet few days. Hope things are well with you and Sladja. Marion

    May 18, 2021 - 7:24 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      It’s been interesting to read through people’s different feelings about the cathedral. Thanks for your two cents, hope it’s open the next time you’re in town. Embrace the good weather while it lasts!

      May 18, 2021 - 9:00 pm Reply
  • Lookoom

    When you think of cathedral, you think of Gothic, maybe Romanesque, or vaguely revisited Byzantine style, but not … this! I understand the disappointment of people who are too formatted by too many classical churches. Yet great architects have invented innovative and elegant lines, I think of Oscar Niemeyer with the cathedral in Brasilia, I think of Liam McCormick’s churches in Northern Ireland. But innovative is not enough to be elegant. I accept the stylistic research, but I am not seduced by the result here.

    May 19, 2021 - 12:39 am Reply
    • Leighton

      I knew you wouldn’t like this one, ha! I feel this comment thread had a lot of defenders, so your thoughts act as a welcome counterbalance. Thanks for reading and commenting!

      May 19, 2021 - 9:34 am Reply
  • Rebecca

    While the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral might not have the same austere, historic atmosphere to it as other cathedrals in Europe, I think the modern take on it is refreshing and, honestly, very cool! I can see why people might find it an “eyesore,” but I believe that it’s the “eyesore” nature of it which makes it a worthwhile attraction to check out. I would definitely pop in to check it out while in Liverpool!

    May 19, 2021 - 5:47 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Totally agree with you Rebecca, though it’s actually surprising to me to see how many people don’t mind it at all. I’m often drawn to structures that are “a bit out there” and LMC is certainly that!

      May 19, 2021 - 9:37 am Reply
  • Nic

    I think it’s quite impressive and different from what people are used to for a Cathedral… but while I’m a big fan of old gothic cathedrals, always happy to embrace the new. And the interior of Liverpool’s Metropolitan is definitely hipnotic. Would love to visit one day! Thank you for sharing 🙂

    May 19, 2021 - 11:43 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Nic, glad to read more positive thoughts about the building. Appreciate the feedback!

      May 19, 2021 - 11:58 pm Reply
  • Memo

    Impressive indeed. But then cathedrals are supposed to be about other worldly experiences not necessarily medieval worldly experiences. Too bad about the structural issues, I’m sure that only fed the nay sayers. Still, I think I could revisit here numerous times, just for the artwork and the inspiration they provide. So glad you included them.

    May 20, 2021 - 8:58 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ah another vote for “its not so bad”. Good stuff, totally agree that it’s ok to be brave with an otherworldly design. Cheers Memo!

      May 20, 2021 - 9:02 pm Reply

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