CATHEDRALS give non-religious people a
"powerful sense of the sacred" which they do not experience
elsewhere, a new report suggests.
Spiritual Capital: The present and future of
English cathedrals was published on Monday by the Grubb
Institute, a consultancy, and Theos,
a theology think tank. It was written on behalf of the Association
of English Cathedrals and the Foundation for Church Leadership.
The report draws on data from two
surveys: a national survey of 1749 English adults, carried out by
ComRes; and six smaller surveys, totalling 1933 people, in
Canterbury, Durham, Leicester, Lichfield, Manchester, and Wells,
carried out by Theos and the Grubb Institute.
Of the respondents to the national
survey, 27 per cent, said to represent 11 million adults, said that
they had visited a cathedral in the past 12 months. Among those who
said that they had no religion, this figure stood at 18 per cent.
The number hardly changed for those who described themselves as not
just non-religious but atheist (17 per cent).
Fifty-nine per cent of respondents in
the local surveys who said that they rarely or never attended
church agreed with the phrase: "The cathedral gives me a greater
sense of the sacred than I get elsewhere." Ninety-two per cent of
respondents to the same surveys described the cathedral as "a place
where people can get in touch with the spiritual or the
Speaking at an event to launch the
report at Lambeth Palace on Monday, Dr Nick Spencer, the research
director of Theos, said that the distinction between "tourists" and
"worshippers" was "blurred": many of the "secular tourists" who
visited cathedrals for historical or architectural reasons still
said they got "a sense of the sacred" from the cathedral building.
They came to the cathedral "as a tourist, but . . . don't
necessarily leave as a tourist".
The Archbishop of Canterbury, speaking
at the same event, said that cathedrals were "a stage on which the
most important issues can be framed and explored". As for funding,
he said that there needed to be "a really devoted policy of keeping
the door open; and if you're going to keep the door open, you've
got to keep the walls up."
Spiritual Capital says that
cathedrals provide a venue for "significant occasions" in the
community, such as memorial services for high-profile local people,
creating "a liturgical space" in which people can "express and
process the emotions of local and national crises".
The report also highlights tensions
between cathedrals and the wider Church. For example, researchers
encountered the "misperception" that cathedrals were funded through
the diocese or parish share. "We note that, in situations in which
there is a lack of resources . . . cathedrals are potentially a
Question of the week:
The report describes cathedrals as "a space where people can get in
touch with the spiritual and the sacred". Does that description fit
your parish church, too?
by Paul Wilkinson
FOR the first time in more than 600 years, the public is to get
a close look at a medieval masterpiece. The great east window of
York Minster has been described as the stained-glass equivalent of
Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling, only a century older.
The 311 panels that make up the world's largest expanse of
medieval glass cover 156 m² (1680 sq. ft), almost the size of a
tennis court. But it has always been impossible for the public to
get near enough to examine them.
From Saturday, however, as part of the project York Minster
Revealed, visitors will be able to see some of the glass close up.
Conserved panels will feature in a regularly updated display in a
gallery created inside a futuristic metallic "Orb" inside the
The whole project is to cost £23 million, including a
£10.5-million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
"It is too easy for us to take for granted the amazing
architecture and painting of the great east window," the acting
Dean of York, Canon Glyn Webster, said. "It is almost impossible to
imagine the effect that this astonishing wall of glass must have
had when it was first unveiled to the medieval public in
The window depicts the story of the creation, the fall, the
redemption, the apocalypse, the last judgement, and the glory of
God. More than 80 of the window's biggest panels illustrate scenes
from Revelation. Historians believe that the artist, John Thornton
of Coventry, had access to illuminated biblical manuscripts to
complete his designs.
Thornton was one of the foremost glass artists of his time, and
the window took him five years to complete, at a total cost of £56
- about £300,000 today. He earned a £10 bonus for finishing on
The orb, which measures 9.7m (32 ft) wide and stands 3m (10 ft)
tall, holds a display of five conserved panels. Four are on
permanent show, and the fifth will change each month during the
three years that the restoration is expected to take. Visitors will
be able to see tiny details for the first time, such as expressions
on the saints' and angels' faces, and the artist's brush-strokes in
the glass paint.
"Each panel is an undiscovered masterpiece," Canon Webster said.
"The window is eloquent proof that, a century before Michelangelo
painted the Sistine Chapel, works of extraordinary power and
artistic imagination, far from the centres of the Italian
Renaissance, were being created by English artists.
"Stained glass - a medium in decline after the upheavals of
Henry VIII's reformation of the English Church a century-and-a-half
later - was at its height, achieving a status unsurpassed before or