Cathedrals 'appeal to non-religious'

19 October 2012

YORK MINSTER REVEALED

On closer examination: the Elders worship God, in a panel from the York east window. Story, below

On closer examination: the Elders worship God, in a panel from the York east window. Story, below

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 sacred".

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 convenient scapegoat."

Leader comment
Comment 

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 Minster. 

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 1408." 

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 time.

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 since."

 


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