If you’re looking for somewhere unusual to eat in the centre of Liverpool you can do a lot worse than Alma de Cuba [http://www.alma-de-cuba.com/homepage] on Seel Street, one of the streets running parallel to, and between, Bold Street and Duke Street, within easy walking distance of Lime Street and Liverpool One.
This vibrant, ultra-modern bar restaurant sits inside the oldest surviving Catholic church building in Liverpool.
Indeed, St Peter’s Church is astonishingly old for a post-Reformation Catholic place of worship. It opened in 1788, ten years after the passing of the first Act of Parliament rescinding the penal laws governing the persecution of Catholics ever since Tudor times.
St Peter’s thrived as a place of worship for nearly two hundred years.
When it could no longer support a local congregation it was transferred in 1976 to the Polish Catholic community and rededicated to Our Lady of Czestochowa. This attempt to keep it going lasted only two years.
Eventually, the developer Urban Splash rescued the building and it opened as a particularly fine Latin American restaurant in August 2005.
It’s the sort of place where award-winning barmen toss glasses in the air and usually catch them. And Sunday brunch is enlivened with, of all things, a Gospel choir.
The walls are stripped to the bare brickwork and the ceiling has been removed, revealing the roof-beams. The ornate Classical sanctuary is intact, with a plate-glass mirror in place of the reredos.
It’s disconcerting to eat and drink and listen to music while staring at the inscription “TU ES PETRUS” – Christ’s words to St Peter, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church” [Matthew 16:18].
The contrast between spirituality and hedonism isn’t quite comfortable, and some customers might look askance at the restaurant’s tag-line “Heaven can wait”.
Nevertheless, the building – arguably the most precious archaeological gem of the proud Liverpool Catholic community – survives and is physically safe. It needn’t be a restaurant for ever, and at least it’s not a pile of rubble.
For so many former places of worship, that’s all too likely a fate.
For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lectures on Liverpool architecture, please click here.
For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Survivals & Revivals: past views of English architecture, please click here.