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Cathedral doors open to canine visitors

01 March 2024

Welcoming well-behaved dogs to cathedrals is a winning idea, says Sarah Morris

Sarah Morris

Sarah Morris and Daisy with their Pilgrim Passport

Sarah Morris and Daisy with their Pilgrim Passport

I USED to believe that the British were not very good at welcoming strangers — that stiff upper lip, or the quiet reserve, which meant that we kept ourselves to ourselves. When was the last time you invited a stranger into your house and gave them food and water? We seem to have lost the true Benedictine tradition of hospitality to strangers.

Recently, though, I have experienced exactly this generosity, and some exceptionally warm welcomes, during my pilgrimage to visit all the cathedrals in the UK — well, not all of them, as I shall explain.

I have always loved visiting churches and cathedrals: places of astonishing history, art, music, architecture, and faith. But some of our beautiful cathedrals do not welcome me. You see, I am a single person, unmarried and without children. The person I love has four paws and a tail. . .

I can’t be the only single person who shares their life with a much-loved pet. I often imagine how married people would feel if the person whom they loved was not allowed into a cathedral and had to be left alone at home because someone was concerned that they might make a strange noise, worry others, or make a mess.

The Disability Discrimination Act says that, legally, people with an assistance dog are allowed everywhere (unless there is a very specific safety reason). There are very sensible reasons for this. For example, guide dogs are trained to toilet on command (and not in the middle of Tesco), and are able to ignore food temptation when in harness, and wait patiently for instruction.

The rest of us owners, however, are frequently not allowed to bring our dogs when we visit places, even if they are well-trained dogs who are companions to responsible owners. Often, all rests on the opinion of the person in charge. In cathedrals, deans seem to have complete autonomy in deciding whether they welcome people with dogs or not.


LAST December, I visited Winchester Christmas market with my Labrador, Daisy. I thought I would also pop next door into Winchester Cathedral to visit this amazing place. Outside the main door, there were signs saying, “Welcome to all!”

Once I went in, however, I was stopped and told that I was not welcome, because I had Daisy with me. Staff on the door were very apologetic. They explained that they did not know why it was the policy, but I was asked to leave the building. Meanwhile, I could see families with screaming babies and toddlers, and lively school groups running about and making lots of noise — all allowed in the cathedral. Just as it should be in an all-welcoming place.

When I arrived home, I composed a positive and well-reasoned letter to the Dean of Winchester, the Very Revd Catherine Ogle. I asked whether she would reconsider the policy and allow calm, under-control, and well-behaved dogs into the cathedral.

Sarah MorrisSarah Morris and Daisy

Many other cathedrals have recently changed their policy to become dog-friendly: Salisbury, Chichester, Bristol, Canterbury, and many others now welcome well-behaved dogs, and few problems arise. Chichester Cathedral has a page on its website detailing dog-friendly pilgrimages that you can do together — short walks in the area ending up at the cathedral.

I was excited to receive a reply a few days later from Dean Ogle, saying that she would be working with her management team to create a new dog-friendly policy for a four-month trial period. She said that she would invite Daisy and me to the cathedral as her guest.

The new policy at Winchester now welcomes well-behaved dogs, who must be on a lead. Owners must clear up and make staff aware of any “accidents”, and, if your dog becomes disruptive in any way, you should leave the cathedral voluntarily. Fair enough — that sounds like a sensible policy to me. And, this summer, Daisy was the first dog allowed into Winchester Cathedral as a guest of the Dean. She was given a free dog biscuit and a bowl of water on arrival.


TO CELEBRATE this exciting news, we undertook to walk the 80 miles between Canterbury and Winchester, the distance of the Pilgrim’s Way. We walked every day in short stages, and achieved our 80 miles of “dogrimage” on the day we arrived at Winchester. The fact that I called our daily dog walks a “pilgrimage” turned an ordinary walk into something much more reflective for me. Walking outdoors is a time to be at peace, but this journey along the Pilgrim’s Way was a very special time.

My visits continued. At St Albans Cathedral, the staff made me aware of the “Pilgrim passport”. At each cathedral I visit, I can present it to the welcome desk and get a cathedral stamp in the passport to mark that visit. Again, at St Albans, we experienced such a warm welcome: there was a jar of dog biscuits on the desk in the shop!

I travelled to Bristol and Wells cathedrals for more wonderful welcomes. I was reminded of Matthew 25.35: “I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in.”

Later last summer, I made the first of my road trips with Daisy to visit more cathedrals further afield. When I visited Lincoln Cathedral, I went into the dog-friendly café for breakfast. Even before the menu arrived, someone brought a bowl of water for my dog.

After breakfast, I was sitting in the cloisters waiting for the cathedral to open, and some of the staff came up for a chat. I explained that I was on a dog-friendly pilgrimage. First, I thanked them for allowing me to come in with my dog, because not all cathedrals would allow this. The welcome team at Lincoln explained that they also welcome the Lincolnshire police dogs into the cathedral for search-training sessions.

I then asked whether there had ever been any trouble with dogs inside the cathedral. The answer was the same as in every other cathedral that I had visited on my pilgrimage: there had never been any issues. In fact, I have found that dogs are a lovely way to approach people and say hello, start a conversation, and make friends.

At Ely Cathedral, after another warm welcome by staff, I saw that a large party of schoolchildren were also visiting at the same time. They had apparently had their packed lunch picnic on the floor of the Lady chapel. If a dog had made such a mess on the floor, then I’m sure someone would have complained.

Daisy did her Labrador best, and attempted to clear up some of the sausage rolls and crisps — but two-legged children are permitted to behave that way, whereas, rightly, four-legged ones are not. In many ways, a well-behaved dog on a lead in a cathedral is less bother than a child on a school trip.


ALL the way around Britain, I have documented my journey on social media with photos of these beautiful cathedrals. As a keen choral singer with a love of church music, I felt that it was appropriate to have a little fun and draw attention to my pilgrimage by taking photos of Daisy as a #CathedralDog chorister in each of the choir stalls we visited. In the very visual world of social media, this had the effect of drawing attention to our pilgrimage, and gave me the chance to thank each cathedral individually for being #DogFriendly.

Sarah MorrisDaisy visits Winchester CathedralMore recently, I was privileged to be invited to visit Christ Church Cathedral, in Oxford. Normally, it does not allow dogs to visit, but, as I was using my Pilgrim Passport, they made an exception. The staff and guides gave us another very warm welcome, and we visited the shrine of St Frideswide. Christ Church is the home of the Centre for Christian Pilgrimage.

From individual websites, I have found that there are still ten cathedrals where I am not welcome to bring a well-behaved dog on a lead. (I might forgive Southwark Cathedral, because Hodge, the resident cathedral cat, might have a strong opinion on the matter.)

I am particularly sad not to be able to visit York Minster with Daisy, as my sister Jane was ordained deacon there in September 1992 — a joyous family occasion. I would love to return one day, but at present we are not welcome.

I can only pray that more deans will look at this growing area of welcoming well-behaved dogs on leads into their cathedrals. The Bible reminds us in Hebrews 13.2 to show hospitality to strangers; for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. I would ask that they have faith; but, actually, all you need is a bowl of water, a jar of biscuits, and an open heart.

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