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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 June, 2003, 14:12 GMT 15:12 UK
Bristol cathedral celebrates anniversary
By Paul Stevens
BBC News Online

Clifton Cathedral
The cathedral was commissioned in 1965 and opened in 1973
Bristol's Catholic Cathedral Church of St Peter and St Paul in Clifton is celebrating its 30th birthday.

The building is a relative newcomer - this year Cologne will celebrate 755 years since its founding while Christians have been worshipping on the site of the present Canterbury Cathedral for at least 1,400 years.

But while the modern structure may not share the lengthy history of its illustrious forbears, there is much to celebrate in this most contemporary of buildings.

Visitors say the acoustics are first-rate, making the venue a popular one for some of Europe's top classical ensembles.

Henry Haig's abstract stained glass panels are impressive, reminding one of the more figurative work of Marc Chargall, and William Mitchell's stark relief statues of the 14 Stations of the Cross are eye-catching and memorable.

Clifton Cathedral
Scaffolding surrounding the spires made them resemble a pagoda

The original Pro-Cathedral - the parish church which had been standing in for a cathedral - was desperately in need of major repair work and had been for some time.

Then a group of businessmen came forward with a cash offer in the mid-1960s and it was decided a new cathedral should be built.

The building is made entirely of concrete and relies heavily on natural light.

Moreover, the impressive 160 foot spires, like that of the nearby Christchurch, have become familiar landmarks from all around the city.

The architect, Ronald Weeks of the Percy Thomas Partnership, then a comparatively newly-qualified graduate, is now a partner and looking forward to his forthcoming retirement.

He remains proud of the building, commissioned in 1965, following the Vatican Two conference and built, at a seemingly bargain cost of 600,000, in 1973.

"I think internally it probably is the most forward-designed church following on from Vatican Two in the 1960s," he said.

"This was the first building after the counsel and it reflected the direction the Church elders decided it should take.

Ronald Weeks
I think internally it probably is the most forward-designed church following on from Vatican Two
Ronald Weeks
architect

"Many people said it was ugly and certainly it was unusual in its shape.

"Some people were saying, 'It'll never be like the old pro-cathedral', others said, 'We've got to move on and this is new and exciting'.

"It won a Concrete Society award at the time and RIBA gave an award - a bronze medal for the region I think."

David Harrison, then as now, a feature writer at the Bristol Evening Post is a fan.

"It was wisely praised at the time. I love the panels inside, they are gorgeous, arguably not quite as impressive as Liverpool where the colours change as the sun crosses the sky, but fantastic nevertheless."

The present Bishop of Clifton, Declan Lang, also loves the cathedral.

"It conveys a great sense of being large and yet intimate at the same time," he said.

"The seats are positioned so that no one is ever far from the altar."

Clifton Cathedral's 30th anniversary celebrations begin on Wednesday 25 June and continue until the Mass and Evensong on Sunday 29 June. Architect Ronald Weeks will give at talk on the cathedral at 1930 BST on Friday 27 June.


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