Cathedral maintenance ‘needs super-rich funding’

03 December 2009

by Bill Bowder



On the tiles: Canterbury Cathedral launches online appeal to raise £13,000 to restore the South Oculus window. A image gradually brightens as the tiles are sponsored for £10 each. On Wednesday 209 tiles were pledged, so far 

ENGLAND’S “jewels”, its ancient cathedrals, are in their best condition for a century, but will deteriorate within a decade unless the country’s super-rich help to fund the extra £100 million they need every ten years, rep­resent­atives from the cathedrals and conservation bodies were told at a meeting in St Paul’s Cathedral on Tuesday.

Frank Field MP, the chairman of the Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England, said that the super-rich could help because they would survive the economic downturn.

“They may be down £300 million, but they still have £700 million and they could express their gratitude by giving the odd £1 million. In Victorian times, the super-rich thought it proper to invest their wealth in the future of the community. I know of one cathedral that depends on one very successful super-new-rich person, though that’s not common.”

He called for a part-time post, funded by the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches, for “someone who will ensure that no story of what the cathedrals are doing goes untold or unrecorded or unpraised”.

People should stop “whingeing” for govern­ment money, because it would not be forth­coming, he warned.

Baroness Andrews, who chairs English Heritage, said that the cathedrals were “the jewels in our crown”.

Dr Simon Thurley, its CEO, said that since the extent of the cathedrals’ needs had first been surveyed nationally, in 1991, £250 million had been spent on them and they were now in better condition than they had been for 100 years. Nevertheless, they would continue to need £100 million spent on them each decade. He warned: “English Heritage is moving away from grant giving that is ring-fenced for cathedrals.”

The Very Revd Dr Christopher Lewis, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, said that mass tourism had “caught the cathedrals by surprise”. They were not sure that they wanted to be seen as a “visitor attraction” because of their “godly role”. Others had adopted a theme-park approach: “Go on all the rides, down the crypt, up the tower, and concluding with the illuminated gospels” and the “inevitable shop where you can buy tasteful junk”.

The English Cathedrals Visitor Survey, (carried out in October by ORB, of 5842 people in 38 cathedral cities of whom 3195 visited the city’s cathedral) suggested that most people loved to visit cathedrals. Thirty six per cent said they would say a prayer when they were there, and 26 per cent said they would light a candle.

Cathedrals were opportunities for evangel­ism, visitors were locals (43 per cent), and those who paid to enter said that they were glad they went in, he said.

The survey suggested that most people would prefer to make a donation rather than pay a charge. A fifth of those surveyed said that they did not visit the cathedral because they were not interested, and 28 per cent would visit if entry was free.

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