On Wednesday it seemed an entirely appropriate venue for the delivery of a report that represents an equally imposing landmark for a city defined by football, and since the 1980s, by tragedy.
Architect Giles Gilbert Scott was just 22 when he received the commission for his masterpiece. That made the prodigy about the same age as the majority of the victims of the Hillsborough disaster, whose scandalous deaths were finally exposed to full scrutiny in a 400-page doorstep that at last constitutes the truth about English football’s darkest episode.
Truth has been a malleable and much-abused commodity in the 23-year saga of Hillsborough, but on Wednesday the families finally found some refuge from the lies in the cathedral’s cool interior.
They gathered at 9am to hear in-person from the Hillsborough Independent Panel, chaired by the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Rev James Jones.
One by one the panellists, including eminent lawyers, doctors, and Professor Phil Scraton, who has done more to uncover the truth than anyone, took them through their findings.
At times they were shocked beyond their physical limits. On hearing that almost half of the dead might have been saved after the artificial 3.15pm coroner's cut-off time imposed at the original inquest, three of them fainted.
But at the end the families rose to their feet as one and applauded. It was an expression of faith in the panel’s work, and of their profound relief at finally receiving a comprehensive vindication of what they have always known to be true.
For two decades they have had to deal with what the Prime Minister David Cameron called a “double injustice”; the injustice of losing their family member compounded by being told that they were somehow responsible for the catastrophe that killed them.
They have borne it with great dignity and unstinting determination, and on Wednesday their conviction was finally endorsed in the most emphatic fashion.
“We feel totally vindicated,” said Trevor Hicks, president of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, who lost both his daughters on April 15, 1989.
“We have been accused of being vengeful, spiteful, of looking for compensation, all of which was rubbish. In fact, there was a contrived, vengeful, spiteful attempt [by the police] to shift the blame. Now we are vindicated in our search for the truth.”
The weight of new evidence is overwhelming, with as much as 50 per cent of the detail new even to the families. But at its heart is confirmation of what they always suspected; the police conspired to blacken the names of the dead and avoid responsibility.
It began even as the dead were being counted in the Hillsborough gymnasium, and continued as the chief constable of South Yorkshire Police gave the local Police Federation branch licence to peddle the lie that “drunken, ticketless fans” were responsible.
“When you get the chief constable sitting down to cobble together a solid story, and sliding the blame onto everyone else, then you reach a new depth of depravity,” said Hicks.
“This is a disgrace really, when you think they knew this 23 years ago and they put the families so much heartache,” said Margaret Aspinall, chairman of the HFSG, who lost her son. “We had to pay for everything in our fight, they had their costs paid for by the taxpayer, but they were the liars, we were the truthful ones.
“We will always be the losers from Hillsborough, but my son and the 95 others, we were their eyes, we were their ears, and by God we were their voices, and I am so proud of the families for that.”
Hicks said the revelation that 41 of the dead might have survived had hit him hardest.
“We have been blown away by how bad it was. We may have expected it, but the thing that struck me was so many people could have been saved, it beggars belief.
“There will be no great rejoicing, but the city has been vindicated,” he said. “They would have to spend 23 years apologising to make up for what happened, but now the truth is out there.”
A truth as permanent as the cathedral where it was revealed.