Friday, 19 October 2012

Present and Future of English Cathedrals

The consultancy the Grubb Institute and the theology think tank Theos published a report on cathedrals in contemporary England: Spiritual Capital: the Present and Future of English Cathedrals earlier this week.

Church of England cathedrals have a unique and widely admired position within English society. Praised for their architectural magnificence, aesthetic appeal and historical significance, this report shows that their impact on and significance for English life extends far beyond their role as tourist destinations.

Based on an extensive and detailed research programme carried out by The Grubb Institute and Theos over 2011-12, Spiritual Capital looks at Cathedrals in contemporary England, assessing the breadth, depth and nature of their activity and appeal, with the objective of helping those who run and work in them to understand and respond better to the challenges of the 21st century.

You can download the report and the polling data.

Today’s Church Times has published this editorial What cathedrals are good at and this news article by Ed Thornton Cathedrals ‘appeal to non-religious’.

Other press reports include:

Nick Spencer in The Guardian about The cathedral as a broad church.

Ruth Gledhill in The Times Cathedrals are finding spirit of the age [republished by Theos]

John Bingham in the Telegraph ‘Pilgrimage’ makes 21st Century come-back as 11 million visit cathedrals

Philip Maughan in the New Statesman What are cathedrals for?

Posted by Peter Owen on Friday, 19 October 2012 at 1:15pm BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England

why are so many inaccessible and unfriendly?

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Friday, 19 October 2012 at 5:11pm BST

Interesting piece in the Times today.
Guy went to Winchester where he would have had to pay had it not been closed to prepare for a Son et Lumière and even the Cathedral close was inaccessible because of filming!
Then to St David's. Free and pleasant land!

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Friday, 19 October 2012 at 6:44pm BST

Are they, Laurence? That is not our experience, I have to say. Visits this year to St Asaph, Wells and Chelmsford have all been notable for a sense of welcome.

Posted by: Jeremy Pemberton on Friday, 19 October 2012 at 7:48pm BST

Yes, trips to St. Asaph, Wells, Chelmsford, St. Paul's and my 'local', Southwell this year have all been welcoming and accessible. As an atheist, I visit them for their historical and architectural interest and to attend secular concerts.

However, I was barely through the door of Coventry Cathedral when I was confronted by posters promoting a forthcoming gay-hate event starring Nazir-Ali. I stayed long enough to deface the posters and walked out.

Posted by: Laurence C. on Friday, 19 October 2012 at 9:33pm BST

Martin — But if you read the letter in tomorrow's 'The Times', you will see that another reader's experience last year was "the exact opposite: St Davids had a film being made and large parts were inaccessible while Winchester was open."

Posted by: David Lamming on Friday, 19 October 2012 at 9:42pm BST

I know that that is not true at Chichester too, judging by the comments of visitors (and we are free too and you don't get overwhelmed by large notices demanding you give).

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Friday, 19 October 2012 at 10:02pm BST

In Christchurch, New Zealand, where our earthquake damaged Cathedral is no longer the living heart of our city, we have been forced into new, pragmatic understandings of what a cathedral really means to the local people. It seems that, only when it is no more, the cathedral assumes an extraordinary focus for local - and more vocally widespread - discussion of its importance.

What we, in Christchurch, have been forced to think about is: should we struggle to resurrect the Cathedral as it was - a replica of the neo-gothic original - or should we take this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to raise up a building more open to, and reflective of, it's contemporary environment?

The arguments are still raging. Despite the fact that a resurrection of the original design would probably cost more than the erection of as modern building that could better reflect the real needs of the local community, there are those who feel that the situation needs to accommodate the 'heritage building' aspects of the original.

The Bishop and the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Christchurch have decided to open up the prospect of a new building, that would more suitably accommodate the needs of both the City and the Cathedral worshippers themselves, in an effort to align the building with the broader and more people-centred ministry that a Cathedral ought to provide for both the diocese & the city.

I must say, I agree with the more forward-looking approach to the situation - believing that the Church is actually more about people than the buildings we erect - beautiful and inspiring as they may be. I am mindful of our Lord's response to Peter, on the Mount of Transfiguration, when Peter was ready to build 3 churches.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Saturday, 20 October 2012 at 1:25am BST

I have never found any English cathedral unfriendly or unwelcoming - unlike a major London church I could name. I am especially grateful to cathedrals like Chichester, Durham, Southwark, Worcester, and Wells, which don't request money from visitors (or at least none of those ones did on my last visit).

Posted by: rjb on Saturday, 20 October 2012 at 3:51am BST

Looks like a relatively pricey study; wonder where the Foundation for Church Leadership and Association of English Cathedrals got the funding for it.

Posted by: Randal Oulton on Saturday, 20 October 2012 at 5:23am BST

@ Fr Ron

Part of the issue, surely, is that most of the modern Anglican cathedral buildings in Aotearoa New Zealand are just so - well - dreadful. Holy Trinity in Auckland, in particular, is a ghastly study in what a priest I once met called 'Pacific Stalinism.' Not helped, of course, by the fact that the diocese ran out of money half way through and decided to tack on an ugly and inappropriate rear end to the pantomime horse. And then there's the pink elephant, of course, in Wellington, looking more like a power station than a church. No wonder it attracts few visitors, poor thing. Our ancestors - I believe - knew what they were doing when they made their churches beautiful and lavish. Rather than Peter making booths on the mountain, I think of them more like Mary spilling costly ointment on Jesus' feet.

When gimlet-eyed Cantabrians talk about raising up "a building more open to, and reflective of, its contemporary environment," my heart sinks within me. I'm sympathetic to the idea that buildings are not of consummate importance, but if we really believe that, let's not have a cathedral at all. Let's not use this as a pretext for embarking on some monstrous episcopal ego-trip like so many other cathedrals "reflective of their contemporary environment." For God's sake, if there IS to be a new cathedral, let the imperative be 'to worship the Lord in the beauty of holines's - not to mirror the godforsaken urban wasteland all around.

Posted by: rjb on Saturday, 20 October 2012 at 10:15am BST

I have long said that Cathedrals have a huge part to play in reaching out to those on the edge. If they charge for entry they turn themsleves into museums instead of 'holy places'. I hope and pray that York and those which charge will find other ways of raising the necessary money and be open, free and welcoming. York used to be like that when my husband was Canon Treasurer and it can be again.

Posted by: JEAN MAYLAND on Saturday, 20 October 2012 at 11:14am BST

Obviously beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I am impressed with both Auckland and Wellington Cathedrals.
They are representative of a new country not the old. I love visiting the cathedrals of England but also am mindful of the costs involved built at times of much poverty. I cried as I watched on TV as the Christchurch Cathedral fell down on Feb 22, 2011, it was a beautiful cathedral but I was chastised by my sister who pointed out that people were killed in that terrible event, thankfully, despite fears, not in the cathedral. We live in more enlightened times and I want a new cathedral that is practical and economical as the church has more important things on which to spend its funds.

Posted by: Brian Ralph on Saturday, 20 October 2012 at 7:46pm BST

I remember a comment in Bill Bryson's book "Notes from a Small Island" where he wrote of Durham - "The best cathedral on planet earth, bar none." With that sentiment, I cannot disagree.

Posted by: Father David on Sunday, 21 October 2012 at 5:18pm BST
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