Monday, October 31, 2011

Church, Cathedral or Museum

I have been listening to the protests outside St Pauls Cathedral and I heard on the radio last week and later found on the internet here that “It is the first time the cathedral has been closed since the second world war, and church officials say it is costing St Paul's around £20,000 a day in lost visitor revenues.”  It costs £14.50 to have a look around St Pauls (here).  I have often wondered whether it is reasonable to charge to enter a cathedral or church and I don’t think I have really made my mind up.  I would pay to go into a museum (although naturally I would rather not pay), and considering the contents of some of these Cathedrals are they any different?   I am thinking of visiting Coventry Cathedral this weekend and LO you have to pay to get in there too (£7). 

In August I went to Winchester Cathedral and I paid an admission fee there (6.50 or £7.15 with Gift Aid) and I didn’t even bat an eye lid; I thought it was worth it.  They actually say on their website that “The Cathedral is open every day for early morning prayers and closes after evening prayers. No charges are made for those who come to join our worship or who wish to pray privately and everyone is welcome.”

I used to think it was outrageous that one had to pay to enter the ‘house of God’ but as time has gone by I think I have softened.  Attendance at church is not as high as it used to be and the revenue to maintain these buildings has to come from somewhere. 

I liked the voluntary contribution box as I used to enter Ely Cathedral, several years ago but I rarely put anything in it; I doubt I was alone.  I think I thought it was my RIGHT to enter the Cathedral whenever I wanted.  Had I donated perhaps I wouldn’t have to pay now.  Apparently it costs Ely “- £3,000 a day to keep the Cathedral open”. That money HAS to come from somewhere. Although not all cathedrals charge - Guildford manages to keep its cathedral open without a specific charge, but if you have been there you will see that compared to some of these other older ones it isn’t quite in the category of ‘museum’ splendour.

In my history in this country I have found the Anglican and Catholic churches to be the ones that have their doors open, reliably, all the time for visitors.  When I visited Ely with the Baptists or Methodists they would reel at the entrance fee as if the Anglicans were criminals– but they seemed to fail to observe that at least the buildings were open outside church service times – unlike theirs!  Now that the Cathedrals are charging (some you can’t pass the payment desk to get in) I wonder what the message is.  Do visitors really go to the Cathedrals to meet with God? I am not sure they do – all the ones I have spoken to go for the architecture and splendour.

If the bible is anything to go by it would be a poor argument to suggest that people go to the Cathedrals to meet with God and thus shouldn’t have to pay for the privilege.  God is meant to be omnipresent and God’s Cathedral is the world. If the still small voice of the wind in the trees can be the sound of the almighty, then I doubt anyone complaining about an entrance fee has an agenda of evangelism, surely?

Indeed, when I had no money and wanted to sit quietly in a place of splendour I was passing a cathedral and asked to sit quietly in this place, to be, to rest and think. I was excused the entrance fee.

Encouraging people to meet with God isn’t a free entrance to a big building of historical merit but through a conversation with the person on the till.  Or at least, one would hope so.

I think that some conversations with ‘believers’ are often more offensive than the entrance fee in a Cathedral.

Yesterday I was sitting in the cafe and had already admired the most beautiful cupcakes; they were Orange and decorated with spiders bats and ghosts.  A man came in and admired them. ‘why don’t you have one’ said the lady behind the till. ‘Oh I am a believer, and I don’t believe in that sort of thing’ said he.  It wasn’t what he said, it was the way he said it.  There was a chilled moment and then he continued his order - remember it was HIM who was eyeing them up in the first place.  Just because the man didn’t believe in the cupcakes didn’t make them disappear, but telling us the way he did certainly made the love vanish out of the room.  I wonder what his message actually was but it certainly nailed another nail in the coffin of the church message.

It is too easy to criticise the church and what it stands for and I can see exactly why it seems so out of date and unapproachable.

It is funny that several Christians regard the entrance fee to see the house of God as scandalous.  I can’t quite equate how £14.50 to visit God compares to what they harp on about so often -  the price God paid for the freedom humankind.

If God is everywhere then these Cathedrals are not the house of God but museums, many are listed among the world heritage sites and I doubt one has to be in them to meet with ‘God’ – art, architecture and history is to be found everywhere including the natural world and that is free. Some things you pay for, some things you don’t; I don’t think it is a matter of religion, faith or entrance fees.


Anonymous Wiggins said...

What an odd religion - to not believe in cup cakes...

6:19 AM  
Anonymous mike griffin said...


A visit to St Paul's is excellent - we visited, took in a communion service taken by the Bishop of London - an amazing person and the building itself is wonderful. The view from the top outstanding.
So much to see and off the tourist track. Brilliant and uplifing.

Mike Griffin

8:33 AM  
Blogger MortimerBones said...

Wiggins - I wonder what the scenario had been were he Descartes....

Mike - I must go sometime; I haven't been for years!

10:18 AM  
Anonymous Martin said...

Some profound stuff, Bones. I started to leave a comment, but it grew into a post on my own blog. Hope you don't mind me referencing it here.

Incidentally, when I was small, you could still (and I did) get to the very top of St Paul's, climb the ladder inside the cross, and look out of the mesh over all of London.


1:13 AM  
Blogger eeyore said...

When I worked in Paternoster Square, St Paul's was a place of quiet sanctuary that I frequently used at lunchtimes for reflection, refreshment and prayer. There was always a side chapel available and no-one ever asked me to pay for this use of the building.

Your post is very far reaching and thought provoking.

Like Martin, this could get to be more of a post than a comment!

I will stop now with the hope of an opportunity to discuss more face to face!

9:04 AM  
Blogger WeepingCross said...

It's unusual to have people who aren't Deans or Canons putting the case FOR admission charges to cathedrals ... I feel very divided. Instinctively I feel annoyed at having to identify myself as a worshipper OR a tourist. Perhaps it's just that some cathedrals' admission charges are very steep. Recently I was planning the route for a history walk for the London Goths and looked in at the door of St Bart's Smithfield (the 4 Weddings church), and was instantly accosted by a man who asked me why I was visiting, and pointed out their admission charge (and of course it's just a largeish parish church, not a cathedral). I didn't do it in the end, but was very tempted to lead my group into the church claiming we were pilgrims, sing something in Latin, and give everyone badges with St Bartholomew on before leaving again. I would have been dressed as an 18th-century clergyman, which would have added to the amusement factor.

9:19 PM  
Anonymous Petroc Geoff said...

Hi Bones,
Enjoyed your thought provoking post. I admit that as an Anglican,I am always annoyed at having to pay to enter a Cathedral or place of worship. We don't charge visitors to our little Cornish church and our running costs pro rata are as significant to us as are the Cathedral's. Well perhaps not!! Perhaps St Pauls should charge the protesters £14.50 a night to pitch their tents within the Cathedral grounds. Just a thought.

12:34 PM  
Blogger MortimerBones said...

Geoff! I like that! It is free accommodation at the moment isn't it....

12:35 PM  

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