From the Revd Gareth Miller
Sir, - I have recently been to the only English cathedral I
had never visited, namely, Blackburn; and various visits to other
cathedrals and greater churches in recent months have led me to
reach a few strongly held opinions, to which your readers may wish
First, cathedrals (and churches in general) should be free of
clutter. They have a tendency to acquire stuff. Regular audits and
purges should be mandatory. The churches that have the greatest
spiritual impact on me are those that are unencumbered with an
excess of artefacts and information.
Second, shops should, wherever possible, not be in the church.
Although vital and useful, if they are in the body of the
cathedral, they create noise and distraction. Have them in suitable
Third, shops should contain mainly items of spiritual interest:
a good selection of spiritual books, literature about the
cathedral, music, and other appropriate material. I have been to
several recently where there was hardly anything of any real value
worth buying - but a rather tacky selection of tea towels and key
Fourth, notices and displays should be professional, tidy,
up-to-date, and preferably laminated if permanent or
Fifth, volunteer guides seem to make a profession of talking
loudly, both to visitors and to each other. This was the one thing
that spoiled my visit to a pleasantly uncluttered Blackburn. If
there are guided tours, this cannot be avoided, although personally
I prefer audio guides.
Sixth, welcome is an important ministry, but it needs to be done
with subtlety and discretion. There is nothing I like less when
entering a church than to be greeted loudly and
over-enthusiastically by a well-meaning welcomer or chaplain. My
own view is that a warm smile is all that is necessary. If people
want to talk, they will say so. If they want information, they will
ask for it.
The building that always makes a very deep impression on me is
Westminster Cathedral. There are very few, if any, concessions to
the tourist. There are holy-water stoups, The Catholic
Herald on sale, rosaries and icons in the discreet shop, and
that's about it. You have people popping in all the time to pray.
There is an atmosphere of peace and reverence inside, and beggars
just outside the door.
While I don't decry for one minute our Anglican emphasis on
education and information, I do wonder whether we overdo it.
Chelwood, Market Street
Charlbury, Oxon OX7 3PL
From Mr J. Meenaghan
Sir, - My wife and I visited Chester recently. Being
Christians, we had to visit the cathedral. We were greeted in the
entrance by two cheerful ladies, and then passed into the area in
front of the cathedral proper. And that was the end of the
We were now in another place, another world. Gone was the
subdued lighting, the calm quiet of a church. In their place were
brash lights, posters, and price lists. We stood there, stunned for
a moment. We were not expecting this.
Something else that we were not expecting (as there was no
mention of an entrance fee) was the sign at the table now in front
of us demanding £5 each (Senior Citizens price) to go into the main
church. We could, we were informed, go in and
pray, but I thought I could just as well go outside and stand
under a tree to pray. There would be fewer people chattering out
Needless to say, to get out of the building we were required to
go through the shop, with all its garish tat hanging from frames
and strewn about on tables and counters. We were almost through the
shop when one item caught my eye. It was a small "Post-It" type of
pad with an image of Christ in colour, and, emblazoned across the
top was "JEEZ-ITS". I picked it up and took it to the desk and
asked the lady if she thought this was a suitable way to use an
image of Jesus. I expressed my disgust at the cheapening of such a
She looked at it, and agreed with me that she also thought it to
be in very bad taste. She said that she was not aware of its being
on show. This made me wonder who exactly was responsible for
purchasing shop stock, and what other mockery of the Christian
faith was in the shop.
I know that the Dean needs to raise money to keep the cathedral
in good order, but why cannot all that stuff be in a separate
place, apart from the house of God? And why cannot admission be a
voluntary contribution? They may not get as much from us oldies,
but it would at least be less like business, and more like
visitors' showing appreciation for being in such a beautiful
building, built for the glory of God.
72 Hunderrton Road
Hereford HR2 7AP