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Feeling the rough edge of his tongue

21 December 2012

Madeleine Davies talks to Lawrence Edmonds, who, for a bet, has spent the year licking Anglican cathedrals in the UK


Close contact:from top: Lawrence Edmonds at Gloucester, Salisbury, and Ely Cathedrals

Close contact:from top: Lawrence Edmonds at Gloucester, Salisbury, and Ely Cathedrals

AT THE time of going to press, one man's story remained the most popular piece of news on the Church Times website. His name is not Justin, or Rowan, and he does not even proffer belief in a deity, let alone any thoughts on what God might think about women bishops. He is Lawrence Edmonds, and, by the beginning of this month, he had licked every Anglican cathedral in the UK ( News, 29 June).

"My favourite cathedral was probably Lincoln," he says. "Just from the scale of it, and the west front was absolutely incredible. The carvings completely blew me away." His blog reveals that Lincoln did, indeed, supersede previous amours - "the sumptuous Norwich Cathedral, the jaw-dropping Durham, and the frankly arousing Wells".

The Lincoln lick itself was "uneventful but very satisfying", he recalls. "The stone was damp from the copious rain that had fallen that day, which probably gave it a very refreshing and mossy taste."

Lichfield, Mr Edmonds says, is the tastiest cathedral in the land. The sandstone was "beautifully warm on the tongue, without any hint of saltiness or other foul taste to ruin the experience". That a cathedral official - "she really was a lovely lady, as are all of the cathedral attendants I've met on my travels" - was able to extract a £10 donation from Mr Edmonds, post-lick, testifies to its impact.

In fact, what began as a joke bet with his best friend, Adam Drury, in January last year, inspired Mr Edmonds, who works in the heritage sector, to raise awareness of the UK's houses of God, in addition to financial support. Fans of Parliament TV will have noted Lord Stevenson of Balmacara making reference to Mr Edmonds's endeavours in a debate on the future of cathedrals in June this year. 

"IT DID start as a bit of fun, but, as I got around the places, I started to see that a lot of them were in dire need of financial support," he says. "I found that quite surprising, but, as I learned more, I found out the reasons for it, and when I downloaded the debate in the House of Lords about it, I was really quite shocked by the situation that some of these places find themselves in."

Last month, he urged his blog followers to make a donation to the York Minster Fund ("It may come as a shock to learn that it costs about £20,000 a day to keep the Minster operating").

Mr Edmonds grew up in York, where he currently lives, after a spell in London, and he attributes his interest in cathedrals to living in the presence of the Minster, which "dominates the city". Nevertheless, he estimates that he had never before visited 90 per cent of the 52 cathedrals on his list.

This included Liverpool, "a must for all cathedral perverts"; Brecon, where it is the "aura of calm that was most striking"; and Exeter, where two "delightul" ladies at the gift shop "truly made my day" (and gave him a free sticker).

Mr Edmonds's bet took on a new stature when he was disabused of his "naïve" assumption that there were no Anglican cathedrals in Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland.

"Some of the ones in Northern Ireland, and some in Scotland, were quite surprising, because some are on a much smaller scale and just looked like churches. But even the very small ones have amazing things in them." He speaks of the "incredible Celtic sculptures" at Armagh, a former site of pagan worship. 

NORTHERN IRELAND yielded also Down Cathedral's "copious spiky stonework", which prompted Mr Edmonds "once again [to]ponder the question of the world's most dangerous cathedral. . . This had been on my mind ever since Silvio Berlusconi had been attacked with a reconstruction of the viciously pointy Milan Cathedral, in 2009. Had his assailant chosen to wield Down Cathedral, we agreed that the naughty Italian's woe would have been far greater."

Mr Edmonds describes himself as an atheist, but his blog attests to the impact of spending time in the nation's places of worship. At Southwell, he watched a performance by children, and "began to think how wonderful it was to see a place of worship so alive, not echoing with distant footsteps and stifled whispers". With his father, he was "swept up with it all as well, and began clapping and whooping with the rest of them. It was splendid stuff."

"I maybe have become more open, now that I have seen these places," he says. "It's difficult to describe, really; but obviously these places are churches, and not just about architecture. You go into these places, and you are struck by the majesty of places like Lincoln and York. I'm not sure whether it's religion or the buildings themselves, but there is certainly something going on."

Mr Edmonds believes that, if cathedrals give people the opportunity to "go behind the scenes", it will "awaken something within them, in the same way that it happened to me". He plans to write a book about his licking tour.

As for the bet with the newly married Mr Drury, it requires the loser to streak outside York Minster on a cold winter's day. It remains unfulfilled.

"I don't know whether it will happen," Mr Edmonds says. "I want to be respectful to the Minster, but Adam still thinks it is going to happen; so he's quite worried. I'll probably leave him to sweat over that for a bit."


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