The great Cathedral bake-off

By Neil Sayer, Archdiocesan archivist

With the approach of the Adoremus celebrations we look this month at the Metropolitan Cathedral's connection to a previous Eucharistic Congress – and also a link with Liverpool's maritime past.

When Archbishop Richard Downey finally set the Archdiocese on course for a new cathedral in the 1930s, it was with huge fanfare and a maximum effort for publicity. But even his appetite could not have foreseen the creation of a cathedral in cake form. 

The story begins on board the SS Britannia where there was great excitement when it was announced that the passenger liner would be used to ferry the Archbishop to Dublin for the Eucharistic Congress in 1932. The ship's chef was Liverpool-born Henry Farrar and its crew included some 90 Italian Catholics, and they came up with the idea of creating a model of the proposed cathedral in sugar and presenting it to the Archbishop during the voyage.

As the ship made its way across several oceans on its routine passage to Bombay, Mr Farrar got to work. The sugar model that he created in his spare time eventually measured 35 inches long and weighed 25 pounds. Mary Berry would surely have approved: the sugar was coloured to look like Portland stone and marble, and the tiny sugar doors had handles made of gold-coloured gramophone needles. Admittedly the sugar was mixed with an adhesive and erected onto a wooden framework, but nevertheless the ingenuity and artistry is fantastic.

The great cathedral dome was apparently covered in silver paper salvaged from cigarette packets, and the model was electrically wired inside so that light would shine out of the tiny stained glass windows.

The final model looks very much like the postcard illustration on which it was based, sold in its thousands to provide finance for the cathedral originally envisaged by the architect Edwin Lutyens. Unfortunately, it never made it to Dublin, as the plan to use the Britannia did not come to fruition. Instead the crew took it round the Mediterranean on their next cruise, before eventually presenting it to Archbishop Downey. It is not clear what became of the elaborate confection: it was sent around the country on another PR exercise, and does not seem to have made it back to Liverpool.