Cathedrals at Risk?


You wouldn’t think so, would you? Surely these huge, historic, grand buildings are safe now and will be for a long time to come? So what’s going on? Why should we be worried?

Cathedrals are a permanent part of the very fabric of the nation. Especially when other things might be in doubt. They are impressive architecturally, and although their original religious significance may well be altering, their presence is welcomed by most people.
A lot of people will have their favourites. Perhaps St Paul’s in London (above), for its royal associations; Canterbury as the ‘boss church’; Liverpool for its sheer size; or maybe Coventry as a post war symbol. In fact the new cathedral maintains a post war theme of reconciliation: the ruins of the old one are kept open as a reminder of the horror of war. Each has a different history, each a different background and associations. Some, like Ely, also known as “The Ship of the Fens”, are great local landmarks.

But what do they actually do? What are they for? How do they stand apart from merely being known as a larger sized church? Well, the Association of English Cathedrals is very helpful in defining this: Cathedrals start by being the place where you’ll find a bishop. They are of course traditionally places of worship and also of historical interest. And they do tend to be fabulous buildings, architecturally fascinating, and usually worth a visit. These days they get up to all sorts. The aforementioned Ely has a science fair going on with scientists from Cambridge University. Durham is doing its history in Lego. Manchester has been donating socks to a homeless centre. Canterbury has recently been the subject of a television documentary, and Norwich maintains a famous herb garden. Cathedrals are open all year round, and apart from worship they can be used for concerts, lectures, and degree ceremonies. They also have ‘visitor attractions’ like shops, museums and education! York does something called ‘Beef, Beer and Bubbles ‘ – one can only guess. In short, there are a wide range of constantly changing features amongst these buildings that all add to their main purpose and help make them even more valuable to their communities. So what’s the problem?

The answers is an all too common one, especially in our times: They need money. They’re not always specific about costs, but Ely says it needs over £300,000 a year just to maintain their music and their choir – which by the way is divine. You’d pay a small fortune to hear them in a concert. Other costs must be astronomical. So Cathedrals go in for shops and trading; managing investments; undertaking appeals and fundraising, and generally relying on collections and fundraising. And in a number of ways they’re up against it. This year’s British Social Attitudes Survey reports that only half of us call ourselves religious in any way, and only one million people go to church at all.

If you have read this but are not overly religious yourself, then you may ask, are they worth it? Would we miss them if they’d gone? I would suggest that anyone who is less than convinced at least go and see one for yourself before you decide. A judgement is best passed after seeing the evidence, after all.

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My last job was as a tutor for OOL. I taught on courses providing professional training for school support staff, as well as A level English Literature and English Literature GCSE. Prior to that, I worked in schools, colleges, adult education and the Arts, including a period as a local authority inspector. I'm going to make myself busy trying to keep you up to date with different aspects of education news – and also to keep you interested.

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