I am so unbelievably fed up with recent long-distance motorway travels in driving rain. The image above is of my habitual bad weather recovery point halfway over the M62 between Leeds and Liverpool or Manchester. I’ve lost count of the stops I’ve made here for the experience of trudging into Costa through driving blizzards or torrential rain.
Luckily this morning’s expedition across the Pennines to collect my rejected Jerwood Drawing (it’s hard work, expensive and time-consuming being committed to entering some of these things) had a bright spot.
Having secured a parking spot on Mount Pleasant in Liverpool close enough to sprint and collect my work without too many drowned rat effects, I decided to take refuge in Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral for 30 minutes.
What a wonderful place it is. I circled the modernist space capsule exterior without encountering another living soul. Perhaps unsurprising given the inclement weather conditions. But encountering an architectural masterpiece in this way, as though I were alone on the planet after some nuclear holocaust, has a certain spiritual je ne sais quoi.
The inside is beautiful. The intense blue light dominates, and incense envelops. I always love the ecclesiastical art here: usually I have an intense dislike of contemporary religious textile work (of any denomination), which seems to always comprise banal panels of appliquéd fabric reminiscent of a seventies WI craft evening teach-in.
This morning, though, there was a new experience. I discovered the Lutyens Crypt: the underground prewar precursor to the modern postwar cathedral. It’s an amazing space. Layers and layers of brick, an indication of what might have been had Lutyens’ exuberant over-the-top original vision been realised for the biggest cathedral in the world.
It’s hard to imagine quite what effect the original design might have had on the Liverpool skyline. The much smaller present cathedral can still be seen from miles around on a clear day, so goodness knows how visible the Lutyens version would have been. Like the great wall of China, it might have been observable from space. The vastness of the crypt is evidence enough of such a possibility.
But the most remarkable feature is just how different the crypt is from the splendour of the postwar space above. It has a feel of ancient times, of unchanging liturgy, of solidity and resistance and survival. It looks to the past, not the future. It’s frankly amazing it could have ever been designed in the twentieth century.
Fascinating though Lutyen’s crypt is, the Catholic community of Liverpool gained something much more special with the final futuristic result. We should all be pleased it turned out as it did.