Cathedrals, photographers, and a rewarding visit

07 April 2009


From the Revd Gerald Smith
Sir, — As a lifetime keen amateur photographer, I find nothing more satisfying than wandering around country churches photographing exquisite interiors and features for my own pleasure.

Try this in a cathedral, and things may be different. Some place a complete ban on photography. Some allow photography ad lib. Others require a camera permit — no bad thing, and quite acceptable in times of overwhelming numbers of digital snappers. Such a permit, at a reasonable rate (£5 or even more) would benefit the establishment’s funds.

Last year, I visited Durham (never again) to find such a ban in force. I halved my “requested” donation at the door as a result, and told the guide so, and why. I later com­plained to the Dean, and was told that the Chapter was concerned lest worshippers might be distracted (but apparently not by the hordes of tourists clattering around and chatting), despite provision of quiet places for prayer, and that, furthermore, people might be photographed.

This latter is presumably on a par with the new crime of taking photographs of policemen, or is perhaps an admission that a cathedral is not really for the public after all.

Shortly afterwards, I visited Bath Abbey, where a notice invited photography, and the guides could not have been more pleasant and helpful about it. I sent some of my photos to the Abbey, for which I was thanked, and was rewarded by a booklet on embroidery (gratis), which I had missed after taking photographs of some of the Abbey’s wonderful embroidered altar frontals.

A lesson here somewhere? Many continental churches not only charge for admission, but also charge for photography. Yet others still ban it — bookshop and postcard sales at risk, no doubt. A dilemma? Not really: merely misplaced hangovers from the past to be compared to not broadcasting church services lest men hear them with their hats on.
Ivy Cottage
Devon EX39 5QS

From Mr Peter Bonsey
Sir, — I was in York on a recent Thursday, and attended the midday eucharist at the Cathedral. After the correspondence that there has been on the subject (13-27 March), I was slightly apprehensive what I might find, but in fact the friendly and charming man at the “box office” happily pointed out to me the way to go, and I don’t think anyone at the service could have felt in any way tucked away or a bit of an embarrassment.

This was followed by a most impressive lecture by the Dean, who seemed equally at home with St Paul and French expressionism, which I take to be no mean feat.

Needless to say, as a casual visitor, I left behind an appropriate donation to the enormous costs of running such a wonderful and prayerful place.
Lower Kelly
Cornwall PL18 9RY

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