LIVERPOOL, England - A dream in progress, a massive dream never to be fulfilled. A monumental wooden model of a domed cathedral, now on display at the Walker Art Gallery, is the only visible realization of Edwin Lutyens' vision of an enormous church for the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Liverpool.
Consider that it took 13 years and $1 million to restore the model, and you get a good idea of why the dream was never translated into stone. But the model, says Julian Treuherz, Keeper of Art Galleries for the National Museums of Liverpool, "is a work of art in itself ... just a very compelling object."
The model was not in very good condition when the Walker gallery acquired it in 1975, Treuherz said. "An awful lot of the pieces were missing. At least one of the towers had gone. It was displayable in a way, but it was a very sorry thing."
The 70-year-old model is a snapshot of an evolving dream, because Lutyens' ideas changed after the model was displayed at the Royal Academy in 1934. The restoration team worked from surviving drawings to produce a composite of the architect's intentions, completing and updating the interior in accord with later drawings.
The design, commissioned by Archbishop Richard Downey, was a thumping gesture of ecclesiastical one-upmanship, designed to dwarf one of the world's largest churches, Liverpool's neo-Gothic Anglican cathedral. The cross atop the dome would have stood 520 feet high, nearly 200 feet higher than the Anglican cathedral, and even taller than the 489-foot dome of the world's biggest church, the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast.
Created in the same 1:48 scale as a Lionel toy train, the model soars 12 1/2 feet high and 17 feet long.
Lutyens, the pre-eminent British architect of the early 20th century, was an obvious choice for the work. He built his reputation first on country houses in the arts and crafts style; he designed the Cenotaph, London's war memorial, and a memorial at the British military cemetery in Thiepval, France; and he made the monumental President's House in New Delhi, India.
Lutyens, a non-practicing Anglican, once told a friend: "Somewhere I am horribly religious but cannot speak it, and this saves my work."
Construction began in 1933 and the model was installed in the new crypt in 1937. The crypt lies below the modernistic and much more modest Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, designed by Sir Frederick Gibberd and completed in 1957.
Lutyens earned nothing for his cathedral designs, hoping to defer payments as a legacy for his children, said Jane Ridley, a descendant and author of a biography of the architect.
"He would sit up until 1 or 2 in the morning, smoking endless pipes, fiddling away on these endless details," said Ridley, a reader in history at the University of Buckingham. "There are pathetic stories of him when he was dying in 1943-44, struggling up to Liverpool, and the archbishop can't bear to tell him that the work has stopped."
The project was officially abandoned after Downey died in 1953, the estimated cost having more than quadrupled.
Wooden models have a long history in architecture, including Christopher Wren's model of St. Paul's Cathedral in London and the enormous six-ton model, 25-foot-tall model of Antonio da Sangallo's design for St. Peter's Basilica - markedly different from St. Peter's as eventually built by Michelangelo.
Lutyens designed a famous miniature building, Queen Mary's Doll House. The five-foot-tall house, completed in 1924 after three years' work and now displayed at Windsor Castle, was minutely detailed down to the food tins and the real books commissioned from distinguished authors. Even the plumbing worked.
"In fact, he did cite the Doll House when he was asking the (cathedral) committee for money for the model," Treuherz said.
People paid to see the Doll House, raising several thousand dollars, but Lutyens didn't persuade the church authorities to do the same.
The cathedral model was damaged during the war when the crypt was used as an air raid shelter. The conservation team replaced missing spires, belfries and a tower, and revived old techniques to create the delicate moldings and friezes to complete the interior.
They crafted 175 miniature statues to go with the one statue that had survived; some 900 pieces of wood were used to re-create the lantern atop the dome.
As now displayed, space is open between the dome and the nave, giving visitors a peep through openings and a sense of being within the vast spaces that Lutyens envisioned.
It has been a popular exhibit, drawing more than 30,000 visitors in the first six weeks.
The model, on display until April 22, is destined for a permanent home in the new Museum of Liverpool, scheduled to open in 2010.
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