The cathedral is nicknamed Paddy's Wigwam thanks to its tent-like appearance with a spiky skyward protrusion in the middle that is supposed to be a lantern tower. Construction began in 1962 and the completed cathedral was consecrated in 1967. Architectural flaws began almost immediately to appear, leading to the architect being sued for £1.3 million. Repairs were undertaken leading to major changes in the original construction scheme. The main entrance is reached by a steep flight of steps, with a coffee shop at the bottom to prepare you for the trek. The building has enormous stained glass windows, most of which give the cathedral a very dated, sea-like green aura inside. If you like more traditional Christian architecture, head to the beautiful crypt and don't look up as you make your way there! Each year the crypt plays host to the Liverpool Beer Festival, which attracts visitors from all over the world.
The cathedral is the mother church for the northern province. It has a diverse congregation, including many students and immigrants owing to its location. Notice boards indicate that the building is open every day to tourists at no charge. Mass is celebrated and the divine office is sung each day. The cathedral apparently has an orchestra and several choirs attached to its choir schools (St Edward's College and Runnymede-St Edward's School).
Liverpool is perhaps most famous as the birthplace of the Beatles. It won the European Capital of Culture award in 2008 and maintains a strong musical heritage. The cathedral is located near Liverpool's three universities. The Anglican cathedral is a stone's throw away, connected by Hope Street. When corporate reunion of the Anglican Fellowship and Catholic Church seemed realistic in the 1960s, this seemed the most appropriate name for the new road. Today, it should probably be renamed Golgotha Way.
The Most Revd Patrick Kelly, Archbishop of Liverpool, was principal celebrant and preached. Concelebrating with the archbishop were the Rt Revd Mark Davies, Bishop of Shrewsbury; the Rt Revd Msgr Guy-Marie Bagnard, Bishop of Belley-Ars (France); the Revd Msgr Keith Newton, Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham; and at least 20 other priests.
What was the name of the service?Mass to Celebrate the Visit of the Relics of Saint John Mary Vianney. Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney (1786-1859) was a French priest noted for his efforts to restore the role of the Church in French life after the French Revolution. He was canonised in 1925 by Pope Pius XI. When his body was exhumed in 1904 as part of the process of canonization, it was found to be incorrupt despite not being artificially preserved. The relic, consisting of the saint's heart enclosed in a gold reliquary with glass windows, had arrived from France at Manchester the previous day at the start of a four-day tour before being returned to France
How full was the building?
Over half full. The BBC estimates over 1000 people venerated the relic that day. It would be fair to say most of them attended this mass. The reliquary was later positioned for veneration on a table in the sanctuary flanked by two candles and two burly security guards.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. But I had skirted around the welcomers to duck into the gift shoppe to buy a Rosary. I like to be left alone before mass to pray, so this was no problem.
Was your pew comfortable?
Wooden pew with acceptable kneelers. Perfectly comfortable for the couple of hours I spent there.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Prayerful and focussed.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A service sheet produced for this mass contained all responses, hymns, and plainsong used throughout.
What musical instruments were played?
The cathedral's large organ, which appeared to have a mind of its own at times, and the cathedral choir provided the music.
Did anything distract you?
My fellow worshippers were distraction enough. To my right was a gentleman who loudly sighed and tut-tutted throughout. To my left were a veiled nun and a lady wearing a mantilla, both of whom seemed absolutely delighted by the whole mass. There were also some people in curious semi-academic dress, who may have been stewards, who seemed to manage always to draw attention to themselves whenever they did anything.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Probably the highest mass that the cathedral has experienced since the introduction of the Novus Ordo! Incense but no bells; Latin Gregorian chant; a sung canon; traditional hymns; and a solid performance of two anthems by the choir. Delightful yet not overdone.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
15 minutes, I believe, although I didn't time it precisely.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
1 – The archbishop's preaching was fluent despite his using a script. The content, however, was quite a different matter. Neither any of my companions nor I had any idea what he was talking about.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The archbishop seemed to be saying that we should pray for the Lord's labourers, although he also rambled on about healing and how to recognise a shepherd when you see one.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The humble outward display of true inward piety from so many people was extremely moving.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Quite frankly, I feel (as do many) that the cathedral's decor is a disgrace, and the constant self-important faffing of the stewards always managed to distract me at key moments.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was buffeted along by the crowd! The bishops had positioned themselves at the entrance to the cathedral, where they were greeting people as they left.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There wasn't any.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – I am led to believe that the worship is not always of this standard. Also, I crave solid preaching.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Absolutely. St John Vianney is the patron saint of parish priests, and I am sure the visit of the relic will inspire holiness in priests and inspire more vocations.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The intimate few moments I was able to spend in front of the relic.