Rosanna McCurrie reports on the ‘Great Space’
Arguably the best way to learn about a religion is to experience it for yourself. The secondary PGCE group were given the opportunity to visit Liverpool Cathedral on the 11th September 2014. We were not only given a tour of the wonderful gothic style building, but we were also told about the various outreach activities which the church is involved in, or their ‘faith in action’.
It is impossible not to feel overwhelmed by the vastness of the building when you arrive at Liverpool Cathedral. The Cathedral sits on a hill, towering over Liverpool at an incredible 101m. It is the biggest Cathedral in the UK, the fifth largest in the World, and standing by the entrance nearest Hope Street, you really do get a sense of why for so many religious people a building like this truly gives them a sense of the awesomeness of God and the smallness of humanity.
When you walk through the entrance, you arrive into the very aptly named ‘Great Space’. The simplicity of the building adds to the vastness, and I think it’s fair to say that the whole group couldn’t help but gasp in amazement at the huge space we had entered. Here we met our guide, a lovely lady who works for and is dedicated to the mission of the Cathedral in Liverpool.
First we were given a brief introduction to the building and learnt some new facts. The Cathedral was designed by architect Giles Gilbert Scott in 1904. Until 1880, Liverpool had been under the Diocese of Cheshire, and with the creation of the Diocese of Liverpool, a new Cathedral had to be built. Upon reflection, it seems that the time and context in which the Cathedral was built has had a great impact upon its design and ethos. It was very much built by the people of Liverpool, for the people of Liverpool, and a great example of this is the fact that the Bee Gees played there in 1965!
Our guide also pointed out that Liverpool is a city of two Cathedrals. Liverpool Cathedral, which is Church of England and Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, which is Roman Catholic. The two are linked by the aptly named ‘Hope Street’, highlighting the plurality and the ecumenical nature of the religious scene in Liverpool today.
After this we were shown the key features of the building. We were shown the World’s highest and widest gothic arches, the entrance to the tower, the font, the organ, the beautiful stained glass windows, the altarpiece, and the stunningly intimate Lady Chapel.
Each of these are key features of any Cathedral, and it was interesting to that in one sense the Cathedral is very typical, yet in another it is very particular to Liverpool. For example, the Great West Window at first glance is a beautiful, but no means unique, stained glass window. Pictured in the glass are important Biblical stories, representations of the apostles, and of course a representation of the Christ at the top of the window. However, upon closer inspection, at the foot of the window is an image of the Liverpool skyline. The city is encapsulated within the sacred, and you really do sense that the city is as much a part of the Cathedral as the Cathedral is a part of the city.
Underneath the Great West Window is the thought provoking Tracey Emin sculpture. In pink neon in the artist’s handwriting it says “I felt you and I knew you loved me”. It is impossible not to notice, and stands out against the relative simplicity of the rest of the building. We were told that the piece of art is somewhat controversial; some people love it, and others think that the church is simply better off without it.
Next, we saw the font, where infants are ‘baptised’ into the church community. Our guide pointed out that the font is a very similar shape to the Cathedral tower. Whether this was purposeful or not, she did not know. Around the bottom of the font are images of the twelve Apostles complete with their traditional symbols; Peter with the keys to the kingdom, Andrew with the Fish and St. Andrews cross, and each of the Apostles respectively. Aimee noticed that the foot of one apostle was standing on a head. Our guide could not offer an explanation as to why this was, or which apostle it represented, so if anybody knows please do tell us!
We were then shown the Cathedral’s organ – the largest pipe organ in Europe. We were shown the altar piece which shows the passion of Christ and his resurrection, and were also shown the Cathedra, the Bishops seat, which every Cathedral must have to be a Cathedral. This was something I did not know before visiting the church; our PGCE days out certainly are useful in broadening our subject knowledge!
Of course I can’t speak for the rest of the PGCE group, but by far the highlight of the visit for myself was the beautiful, intimate Lady Chapel. The Lady Chapel feels like it is worlds away from Liverpool Cathedral; it is much smaller (that’s a given!) and has a very different feel to the rest of the building. It is far more intricate and intimate. All around you are the words of Jesus’ disciple John which encapsulates the heart of the Christian message in a single sentence; “For God so loved the World that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
Finally we learnt that there is more to the Liverpool Cathedral than a ‘great space’. We were given the opportunity to hear the way in which the Cathedral embodies a living faith – it is not simply a beautiful empty shell, devoid of any humanity. Those who are a members of the Cathedral have a very clear ethos of reaching out to the community, and loving as Christ loved the church. We were told about the work of the street pastors, who aim to reach out to people on nights out in the City. We were told about their interfaith work and the Cathedral’s links with Liverpool’s Jewish and Muslim community. We were also told about the ‘People’s Path’, which gives members of the community the opportunity to make their mark on the Cathedral by having their name, an important date, or message inscribed on a brick on the path which will stretch from the Cathedral’s entrance to the Lady Chapel
On the way out I was able to take some of the leaflets for events and services in the Cathedral. It is very clearly a vibrant and forward thinking place which is not as some would imagine a cathedral to be. The word ‘cathedral’ often conjures up images of dark, dreary buildings, old men in robes and solemn worshippers. The reality in Liverpool Cathedral is very different. On offer are various children’s groups, Cafe Church, an Alpha course for those wanting to explore the claims of Christ for themselves, as well as traditional worship services. There is a living dialogue, not only with other Christian traditions in Liverpool, but also with other faiths. All in all it was a second to none experience. No doubt each of us will visit the Cathedral again and make use of all it has to offer throughout the course of this year.