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Hats off (or not) to the Dean of York?

15 August 2014


From the Revd Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes

Sir, - The Revd Andrew Martlew (Letters, 8 August) believes that cathedrals that do not ask male visitors to remove hats are little better than tourist attractions.

I served for some years as a volunteer chaplain at Durham Cathedral, one of those to which he refers. I well remember the incident that gave me most trouble in all the time I was there: when I was called upon to intervene after a well-meaning volunteer welcomer had politely asked a gentleman to remove his hat, and the gentleman in question had vehemently refused.

When I was fetched, the atmosphere at the reception desk was tense. The visitor explained to me that he had unsightly head injuries that he preferred to keep covered at all times to avoid stares. I assured him that was fine, and he was welcome to keep his hat on. But he then pushed me further: why should he have had to tell me his private medical business?

Fortunately, I was able to assure him that the cathedral visitor policy was, indeed, that people were welcome to wear hats or not as they saw fit, and that I would direct the volunteer who had accosted him to the relevant part of the training manual for volunteers.

It does not seem to me that extending a welcome to all who wish to come, as they present themselves, is out of place in a cathedral exercising its ministry of hospitality: quite the reverse. Were our society still one in which men were expected to doff their caps to their social superiors, then perhaps keeping a hat on in church might be interpreted as rudeness.

Since that is no longer the case, asking men and boys to remove their hats is met with incomprehension, and occasionally offence. And, since we are now so much more aware of disability issues, we should be very careful to avoid giving offence to those who may be covering their heads for medical reasons.

I can even imagine a case in which a young man may have carefully thought to wear a hat in church, to cover an offensive tattoo.

Belmont Vicarage
Broomside Lane
Durham DH1 2QW


From the Revd R. O. Gould

Sir, - The requirement of men and boys to wear hats in churches, referred to by the Revd Andrew Martlew, is generally attributed to 1 Corinthians 11.4-5. St Paul's idea that men should uncover themselves was a complete reversal of Jewish practice by which, to this day, men are required, at least partially, to cover their heads.

Since St Paul's argument at the same time requires women to cover their heads, and this is now almost universally disregarded, it seems only fair that men who feel more comfortable wearing hats should be allowed to do so.

33 Charterhall Road
Edinburgh EH9 3HS


From the Revd Jeffrey Daly

Sir, - I join with the Revd Andrew Martlew in his lament that the discourtesy of men wearing hats in Durham Cathedral and York Minster now goes unchallenged.

Throughout 18 years of working and worshipping in York Minster, I have always asked any male visitor wearing a hat to remove it, and I have reminded him that he is in church. Much like the removal of shoes on entering a mosque, it is a simple but valuable way of honouring a place whose principal purpose is to help us be in the presence of holy God.

I urge the Deans and Chapters of both cathedrals to review their policies. The main "visitor experience" must, surely, be of holiness, and no visitor should resent anything that contributes sensibly to that end.

3 Shotel Close
York YO30 5FY

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