Cathedrals and their welcome to visitors — then and now

22 April 2009


From Mr Andy Bebington

Sir, — I was sorry to learn from Gerald Smith’s letter (9 April) that Durham Cathedral is unable to be fully welcoming in other respects. My wife was reduced to tears a few years ago by a uniformed goon (from, we believe, the university) who followed us into the Cathedral and insisted, loudly and at length, that we remove our bicycles from the railing outside (to which we had chained them in the total absence of any other cycle-parking facility).

They were, he said, “unsightly” — this despite the numerous cars parked immediately outside the Cathedral — and “unsafe” — despite there being no footway or other path passing the bicycles.

Despite the best efforts of a member of the cathedral staff to intervene, he told us that, if they were not removed by us, they would be, by him; and, in tears, we left the Cathedral and have never returned.

Protestations in writing to the county and city councils, university, and cathedral authorities did not produce — apart from the expected and anodyne expressions of regret — any undertaking that proper cycle parking would be provided, or that the goon would be reprimanded or re-educated, and that suitable protocols would be established.

We have yet to return to Durham, but, when we do, we will expect little from the Cathedral if it cannot rule its own house, and exclude others’ pseudo-policemen from reducing visitors to tears.

79 Shirley Way, Shirley
Croydon CR0 8PL

From the Revd Jean Mayland

Sir, — I am glad that your correspondent Peter Bonsey (9 April) was able to enter York Minster freely to join in a Lent service, and was so moved that he left an appropriate donation.

The religious can enter freely to worship, and the well-heeled, who pay to enter and join a historic tour, may also catch a glimpse of the worshipping church. The man or woman in the street — especially if he or she has children — looks at the cost of entry and goes away.


It was so different when my husband was Canon Treasurer, and I was Minster Deacon. Then the general public flocked in — especially if it was raining. Those who came to look often halted to pray. Wandering around, they would come across a service in the Lady chapel, and sit to join in. Pushing a pram down the side aisle on Good Friday, they stopped to sing a hymn they knew from school.

They lit thousands of candles, wrote hundreds of prayers on coloured card, and pushed them into a box from which they were collected and prayed. On a summer evening, they came in and sat down to reflect in the still beauty of the place.

The doors were open from dawn to dusk and, although a notice invited a donation, there were no rows of money-takers.

In this materialistic and secular­ised age, it is more vital than ever that cathedral doors stand open and free, so that all may be drawn in to catch a glimpse of the holy.

Minister Cottage, 51 Sands Lane
Bramston Y025 8PQ

From the Revd Anthony L. Bell

Sir, — In response to the letter from the Revd Gerald Smith: it all depends on what priority is to be set for places of worship: either the emphasis is on drawing tourists and compromising the spiritual for the sightseeing pleasure-seeker and hobbyist, or it is the maintenance of a spiritual and prayerful atmos­phere, for which these places were built, at the risk of offending some of the former group.

I was a voluntary chaplain in Durham Cathedral over several years, and that atmosphere was indeed holy. I could never find that same holiness in York Minster or Westminster Abbey (to name only two), because of the clicking of cameras or the strobe lightning of flash photography.

Postcards of all the essential views of the interior were always available in Durham. Your correspondent seems unaware of the damage caused to embroidery by the fading effect of flash photography, and so, it would seem, are those responsible for the maintenance of the fabrics of Bath Abbey.

The Vicarage, 59 The Hill
Glapwell, Chesterfield
Derbyshire S44 5LX

The Vicarage, 59 The Hill
Glapwell, Chesterfield
Derbyshire S44 5LX

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