Today, we visited the Catholic cathedral in Liverpool. I’m always struck, when I go in, by how I don’t hate it nearly as much as I feel like I ought to. It’s a concrete sixties monstrosity, which was falling down by the mid-eighties, and so isn’t even fit for purpose. The corrosion of the bells above the main door has stained the concrete green, in a way that they’ve only partially managed to clean off in the recent renovations, and as a piece of architecture, it seems forever stranded in a state of just-missing.
That’s what I think when I’m sitting here, postulating. When I’m actually there, though, I love it. It’s so calm, so peaceful, and so focussed on God. I love that all the windows are dark blue and purple, giving it a twilight quality even at 1.30pm. I love the big crown of thorns sculpture that dangles over the altar (I wanted to say communion table – I’m such a non-conformist protestant). I love the stations of the cross around the outside edge, and all the little chapels dedicated to this and that. Mostly, though, I love the people. All the staff, even the tour guides and people, just seem to radiate this spirituality that really touches me. A foreign nun, being given a guided tour by one of the staff, stopped to take photos of Daisy in one of the chapels (I let her – she’s a nun, and anyway, Daisy’s cute), then gave her a blessing. I don’t even know what that means, but I know that it’s the sort of thing we don’t do enough of in my church tradition. And I know Jesus did it, so it can only be good.
I find the place much more of a spiritual experience, even on a Saturday afternoon when they’re moving the furniture round for some kind of chamber orchestra to play, than I’ve ever found the Anglican cathedral to be. That’s impressive, don’t get me wrong. It’s the biggest protestant cathedral in Europe, it’s impressive on sheer scale, but it’s only like a incomprehensibly large parish church. With a cafe. And being there feels more like visiting a building, and less like calling in on God.
And coming on the back of many generations of protestant snobbery, that’s saying something.