AT THE time of going to press, one man's story remained the most
popular piece of news on the Church Times website. His
name is not Justin, or Rowan, and he does not even proffer belief
in a deity, let alone any thoughts on what God might think about
women bishops. He is Lawrence Edmonds, and, by the beginning of
this month, he had licked every Anglican cathedral in the UK (
News, 29 June).
"My favourite cathedral was probably Lincoln," he says. "Just
from the scale of it, and the west front was absolutely incredible.
The carvings completely blew me away." His blog reveals that
Lincoln did, indeed, supersede previous amours - "the
sumptuous Norwich Cathedral, the jaw-dropping Durham, and the
frankly arousing Wells".
The Lincoln lick itself was "uneventful but very satisfying", he
recalls. "The stone was damp from the copious rain that had fallen
that day, which probably gave it a very refreshing and mossy
Lichfield, Mr Edmonds says, is the tastiest cathedral in the
land. The sandstone was "beautifully warm on the tongue, without
any hint of saltiness or other foul taste to ruin the experience".
That a cathedral official - "she really was a lovely lady, as are
all of the cathedral attendants I've met on my travels" - was able
to extract a £10 donation from Mr Edmonds, post-lick, testifies to
In fact, what began as a joke bet with his best friend, Adam
Drury, in January last year, inspired Mr Edmonds, who works in the
heritage sector, to raise awareness of the UK's houses of God, in
addition to financial support. Fans of Parliament TV will have
noted Lord Stevenson of Balmacara making reference to Mr Edmonds's
endeavours in a debate on the future of cathedrals in June this
"IT DID start as a bit of fun, but, as I got around the places,
I started to see that a lot of them were in dire need of financial
support," he says. "I found that quite surprising, but, as I
learned more, I found out the reasons for it, and when I downloaded
the debate in the House of Lords about it, I was really quite
shocked by the situation that some of these places find themselves
Last month, he urged his blog followers to make a donation to
the York Minster Fund ("It may come as a shock to learn that it
costs about £20,000 a day to keep the Minster operating").
Mr Edmonds grew up in York, where he currently lives, after a
spell in London, and he attributes his interest in cathedrals to
living in the presence of the Minster, which "dominates the city".
Nevertheless, he estimates that he had never before visited 90 per
cent of the 52 cathedrals on his list.
This included Liverpool, "a must for all cathedral perverts";
Brecon, where it is the "aura of calm that was most striking"; and
Exeter, where two "delightul" ladies at the gift shop "truly made
my day" (and gave him a free sticker).
Mr Edmonds's bet took on a new stature when he was disabused of
his "naïve" assumption that there were no Anglican cathedrals in
Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland.
"Some of the ones in Northern Ireland, and some in Scotland,
were quite surprising, because some are on a much smaller scale and
just looked like churches. But even the very small ones have
amazing things in them." He speaks of the "incredible Celtic
sculptures" at Armagh, a former site of pagan worship.
NORTHERN IRELAND yielded also Down Cathedral's "copious spiky
stonework", which prompted Mr Edmonds "once again [to]ponder the
question of the world's most dangerous cathedral. . . This had been
on my mind ever since Silvio Berlusconi had been attacked with a
reconstruction of the viciously pointy Milan Cathedral, in 2009.
Had his assailant chosen to wield Down Cathedral, we agreed that
the naughty Italian's woe would have been far greater."
Mr Edmonds describes himself as an atheist, but his blog attests
to the impact of spending time in the nation's places of worship.
At Southwell, he watched a performance by children, and "began to
think how wonderful it was to see a place of worship so alive, not
echoing with distant footsteps and stifled whispers". With his
father, he was "swept up with it all as well, and began clapping
and whooping with the rest of them. It was splendid stuff."
"I maybe have become more open, now that I have seen these
places," he says. "It's difficult to describe, really; but
obviously these places are churches, and not just about
architecture. You go into these places, and you are struck by the
majesty of places like Lincoln and York. I'm not sure whether it's
religion or the buildings themselves, but there is certainly
something going on."
Mr Edmonds believes that, if cathedrals give people the
opportunity to "go behind the scenes", it will "awaken something
within them, in the same way that it happened to me". He plans to
write a book about his licking tour.
As for the bet with the newly married Mr Drury, it requires the
loser to streak outside York Minster on a cold winter's day. It
"I don't know whether it will happen," Mr Edmonds says. "I want
to be respectful to the Minster, but Adam still thinks it is going
to happen; so he's quite worried. I'll probably leave him to sweat
over that for a bit."