David Langwallner: Ex Cathedral


From top: Liverpool’s Anglican cathedral (left) dwarfing the city’s newer Catholic cathedral; David Langwallner

At this stage I am privileged enough to have seen most of the great cathedrals of the world and, amid the case I recently finished in Manchester, saw the two great cathedrals of Liverpool, the Protestant cathedral with its neo-gothic or faux-gothic interior and the much more modern Catholic cathedral a stroll down the road, aptly called Hope Street – with its Brutalist, sacred space, where you are cylindrically surrounded. Tasteful modernity?

In nearby York is York Minster, also one of the great cathedrals, which I also visited, with its famous and deeply affecting stained glass windows. Though all built at great expense, the labour of others. The serf labour that also built the pyramids.

The Ridley Scott film Kingdoms of Heaven (2005) is a historical piece dealing with the Crusades and their conflict with the Islamic king Saladin. The Crusades were, of course. a series of historic exercises to export Christianity to the infidel or should that be in effect an exercise in colonisation, greed, and barbarism. And of course, crusade money also funded the cathedrals of Europe.

Liverpool, like Belfast is a divided city on religious lines and a working-class city with much urban degeneration, but also much beauty and not just the cathedrals. Or rather there are other cathedrals, cathedrals of men.

In the phalanx of museums at the Mersey there is the maritime museum with its deliberate reference to both the sinking of the Lusitania and the Titanic. These are cathedrals built on the servitude of others. The great ship Liners.

The Titanic Museum in Belfast is a fascinating multi-dimensional experience of an all too human story of folly and greed. Of course, the estimable Harland and Wolff in Belfast built the ship and the remnants of their trade are close by. The finest shipbuilders on the planet and on the first voyage it sank. Nothing to do with the shipbuilders though. They were only obeying orders. They were told what to do. A problem endemic to our age.

Shipbuilders and the song about same by Mr. Declan McManus aka Elvis Costello, expresses the peace-time decline of ports like Liverpool and Belfast. In the Maritime Museum there is a reconstructed railway which used to tour the docks and circumnavigate the port so everyone could gaze in wonder at the modern-day cathedrals. The harbour in Liverpool was empty apart from the ferry across the Mersey.

So, Cathedrals of the church and of man are symbols of mammon and greed and circuses for the people. Gaze in wonder, but understand the human cost. We do not need cathedrals however pleasant to look at but real property, real health care and real service for real people.

The Cathedrals we need in fact are community and connectedness. We need to talk to each other and understand the other point of view, just as in Raymond Carver‘s greatest story in 1983 about the narrator’s gradual empathy with the blind friend of his wife. Humankind. Called Cathedral.

So, I fell on the stairs at the Protestant cathedral. Lifted by a wayfaring stranger who said in deep scouse: ‘You all right lad?’

And, as I was leaving Manchester, outside my hotel, a man asked: ‘Are you Mr. Langwallner? Well yes. He responded: ‘We will build a plaque for FE Smith.’

Maybe some good will come out of all of this after all.

David Langwallner is a barrister, specialising in public law, immigration, housing and criminal defence including miscarriages of justice. He is emeritus director of the Irish Innocence project and was Irish lawyer of the year at the 2015 Irish law awards. Follow David on Twitter @DLangwallner

Previously: 42 Clifton Road


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19 thoughts on “David Langwallner: Ex Cathedral

  1. Janet, dreams of an alternate universe

    I loved that book, Kingdoms of heaven, surprisingly accurate for a work of fiction.

  2. Tom

    “The Crusades were, of course. a series of historic exercises to export Christianity to the infidel or should that be in effect an exercise in colonisation, greed, and barbarism.”

    Almost complete nonsense. The crusades were, by intent and for the most part, attempts to protect pilgrims and pilgrimage sites from attack.

      1. Rob_G

        I know that you are ‘down with J.C.’, Justin, but c’mon, the crusaders literally led a sack of Constantinople…

  3. Gabby

    Is Liverpool today a city divided by religious denominations? It is a city where religious observance may be more pronounced than in any other English city. However, there is one British city where religious divisions do occasionally spill out into the streets i.e. Glasgow. There is found a tribal animosity when Celtic and Rangers fans have to be kept from each other’s throats in the stands during a match and afterwards when groups of fans flow out into the streets, heading for the pubs.

    1. Janet, dreams of an alternate universe

      that’s because people traveled back and forward for a very long time between predominantly Derry and Glasgow mainly for employment, a lot of families have branches in both countries.

      1. Gabby

        agreed. The Orange-Green animosity emigrated to Glasgow. There is a wider modern and cosmopolitan Glasgow where thriving cultural and social life exists without reference to the Celtic-Rangers bother. Liverpool is an English city with a strong Irish heritage and many pleasant features.

  4. newsjustin

    The notion that the great cathedrals of Europe were built by serf labour and not by very-much-in-demand craftsmen, especially stonemasons, who formed the nascent guilds and civil society across Europe, is wrong.

  5. Rob_G

    “The serf labour that also built the pyramids.”

    These weren’t built by serfs, either – loads of archeological evidence to suggest that the people who built the pyramids were actually well-paid artisans – refuse pits indicating a rich and varied diet, including lots of meat, found next to the workers’ quarters; workers graves being located close to that of the pharaoh, indicating high status, etc.

    The idea that they were built by slaves went out of fashion 20 years ago, David…

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